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Vintage 1998 - California Cabernet Sauvignon

Vintage 1998 in the best Cabernet Sauvignon growing regions (Napa and Sonoma) of California was abnormally cool. As a result, grapes did not mature as early as they normally do and were especially late compared to the stunning 1997 vintage. Many wineries had left heavy crops on the vines and as the cool weather continued through August and into September, they were forced to make a decision. Some wineries chose to thin the fruit by dropping grape clusters in order to allow the remaining fruit to achieve ripeness. Other wineries gambled that warm weather would arrive and bring the entire crop to maturity. The gamblers lost in 1998.

An long, uneven budbreak made this a challenging vintage from the beginning. This was followed by one of the coolest and wettest growing seasons in recent history. When warm harvest weather normally comes around in September, 1998 just had more cool weather. Finally in the latter part of September, rains came.
This is a vintage that could be the poster child for 'mixed results'. The wines from wineries who got mature fruit in before the rains are pretty good. The wines from wineries who harvested diluted fruit after the rains was pretty poor. Wines from the wineries that harvested not-quite-ripe fruit to beat the rains were also not so good.

Aside from the difficulty that the vintage brought, the market also rebelled against the higher prices that most wineries placed on their Cabernets even though they were of lower quality than the stellar 1997 vintage the year before. In the end, many wineries were forced to cut the prices on thier 1998's just to move them. The 1998 vintage produced some nice wines but very few great ones. The wines are more in the 'early maturing' style than those of the best vintages.