2021 Napa Valley Vintage Report and New Releases 

USA, California, Napa Valley

2021 Napa Valley Vintage Report and New Releases 

Without any wildfires to taint the harvest, 2021 was a blissful reprieve from 2020 in Napa Valley, but not without its challenges.


Dry conditions coupled with a cool February and March kept the Cabernet Sauvignon vines dormant until mid-April. The latter part of April and throughout May were pleasantly warm and sunny, kick-starting slow, steady shoot growth. Yet the drought conditions set a smaller-than-average crop, which turned out to be a blessing.

June brought moderately hot temperatures with peaks mainly in the mid-80s F. However, there was one heat spike into the third week, sending temperatures spiking to just over 100 degrees F. Coming at this stage of the game, the impact was minimal. There were also a couple of late-season heat surges at the end of August and the beginning of September, but these were barely above 100 degrees and short-lived. Cabernet vines can easily cope with this moderate level of late-season heat stress if—and this is a big IF—there is sufficient water to see them through.

Not too hot, not too cool, and with sunshine nearly every day in the summer of 2021—what more could Napa Valley winemakers ask for?

Water. The winter of 2020 and spring of 2021 were incredibly dry. The total winter/spring rainfall prior to the 2021 growing season was 10.35 inches (263 mm), which is less than a third of what is usually required/expected. By 2021, the Northern California drought situation was becoming like 2015 all over again and, in some cases, worse. Reservoirs were depleted. Feuds broke out between landowners over water rights. In Carneros, wells were running dry. Water-witching made a comeback as desperate growers needed to find new water sources to irrigate their vines. Even with the smaller fruit set, more fruit than usual had to be dropped to adjust for what the vines could manage under such dry conditions. When the heat spell hit at the end of August/beginning of September, for many growers, it became a matter of choosing which children to save, as some sections of vineyards had to be abandoned to maintain others with precious little irrigation reserves.

The good news is that it was otherwise a relatively uneventful, outstanding growing season. With the vines naturally and necessarily bearing smaller loads, Bordeaux varieties ripened swiftly, uniformly, and manageably. It was a dream vintage for anyone working harvest. Small berries yielded intense flavors with ripe tannins and great concentration without going overblown.

Most of the Napa Valley 2021 Bordeaux varieties wines (Cabernet Sauvignons, Cabernet Francs, Merlot, and blends) were bottled from June through August of this year (2023). I’ve been tasting the newly bottled wines since August and have thus far found this a consistently great vintage. As for style, I’m finding the Cabernets to be like a hypothetical blend of 2018 and 2019, possessing all the brightness, purity, and structure of 2018 yet with more of the concentration and weight of 2019. Constructed with solid backbones of ripe, approachable tannins and impressively taut, tightly wound black and blue fruit layers, the best 2021 Napa Cabernets will age 25 to 40 years or more.

Quality in 2021 is high, but after the minuscule 2020 crop and considering 2022 will be relatively small, three consecutive years of lower yields equates to slim pickings out there for Napa wine buyers. More importantly, 2021 is by far the strongest vintage of this trio and right up there with Napa’s top vintages of the 21st Century so far. Therefore, I recommend buying whatever you’re offered/can find of the 2021s and taking advice on the 2020s and the forthcoming 2022s. Fortunately, 2023 has produced a bumper crop, and from what I’ve seen so far, quality seems consistently high, so there’s good news on the horizon.

Also, spotlight feature articles have recently been published or are due to be published this year on the following Napa producers:






Cliff Lede


Fe Wines


Hundred Acre


Kinsman Eades

La Pelle

Memento Mori



Paul Hobbs



Sullivan Estate

The Vineyardist

Vida Valiente



Check out our Articles page to find the articles that have already been published and our Editorial Calendar for all the latest in-the-pipeline details. If you don’t see your favorite winery on the list yet and/or it hasn’t been reviewed, I’m planning another series of Napa articles for early 2024 to include the later releasing Napa wines (e.g., Harlan Estate). 



Happy Napa Valley wine hunting!

Article & Reviews by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW
Photography by Svante Örnberg

See more work from Svante at svanteornberg.se by clicking here!



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