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The harvest of cabernet sauvignon, the Napa Valley’s signature crop, has already begun in many appellations, as one of the earliest harvests in recent memory approaches its climax.

A few growers expect harvest to be over by the end of September, leading to some concern over what’s shaping up to be a very busy couple weeks. “How do you spell ‘tank space?’” asked Pat Stotesbery of Ladera Vineyards.

Nevertheless, crop quality is said to be high, with excellent flavors and relatively low sugars.

Here’s the latest installment of the 2014 harvest report, organized by American Viticultural Areas:

Calistoga – Paul Smith, Vermeil Wines at OnThEdge Winery – “Most of the whites are in. Zinfandel and merlot are rolling in with zinfandel yields down from last year. At this point there is stress in zin foliage though still minimal raisining. Other reds show plump berries with high sugars that seem to have plateaued, at least for the time being. There is still very little stress in CS and CF blocks, shoot tips are still growing and few senescing basal leaves. Most vintners are taking advantage of the perfect weather and waiting for the flavors to intensify.”

Howell Mountain – Pat Stotesbery, Ladera Vineyards – “Reds, both some malbec and merlot, will begin coming off this week from various vineyards around the mountain. Cab continues to race toward ripeness. Some, other than the eastern slopes, will probably be picked late this week or into next as it begins in earnest. The best expression I heard was ‘We are going to get clobbered,’ meaning everyone seems to think the harvest will be greatly compressed. How do you spell ‘tank space?’”

Diamond Mountain District – Dawnine Dyer, Dyer Vineyards – “The cooler weather hasn’t slowed ripening on Diamond Mountain and this week will bring in cabernet at Armstrong Ranch and Sori Bricco, and malbec at J. Davies. Reverie, with their south-facing slopes, will be halfway through the harvest sometime this week — making this their second-earliest harvest in 21 years. In some vineyards, virused vines are showing symptoms of water stress, but in general the drought seems to have had limited effect. Timing of this spring’s rains, milder summer temperatures and higher humidity are all sited as factors. The dry-farmed vineyards at Diamond Creek, where roots go deep into the soil and vines receive no irrigation, are developing excellent flavors and on track to ripen normally.”

Chiles Valley District – Alexander Eisele, Volker Eisele Family Estate – “As foreseen everybody is now picking in the Chiles Valley District. The last of the whites, semillon, are now in the tank as you read this. Zinfandel is now the focus, and next week hillside cabernet will probably be ready. All tests show very promising quality parameters: good color, good sugar/acid balances and mature flavors. The weather is very stable. Nights are getting cooler and longer. The highs are in the mid-80s. Maybe this year will be the third great vintage in a row.”

Spring Mountain District – Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone Winery – “The fabulous weather for the last 10 days has allowed harvest to proceed with nearly perfect conditions. This week Stony Hill, Schweiger and Keenan will be finishing chardonnay. This week numerous wineries are starting merlot in a serious way with a few wineries dabbling in small blocks of cabernet sauvignon. The acids and pHs are in perfect balance; flavors tend to be developing at lower sugar levels than normal. Everyone is anticipating a serious go at cabernet in the upcoming weeks.”

St. Helena – Kevin Morrisey, Ehler Estate — “As you sleep tonight under a big full super moon, which is also the 2104 harvest moon, we will be night picking cabernet sauvignon in St. Helena. Our particular property ripens early in general, but we’re a solid 10 days ahead of last year. Historically early. The fruit is fully ripe, the seeds are mature, and the stems are getting woody. Flavors are superb, so there’s no reason to wait. Sugars are lower than most years, acids are higher than usual, and we’re expecting a unique quality to the vintage in the best possible sense. Sauvignon blanc also came in 10 days early, as did the merlot. Yields are 10+ percent higher than our estimates. At this rate we may be done picking before the end of September!”

Rutherford – Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyard & Winery – “Cellar and vineyard crews have worked diligently all week bringing the harvest in. We have been at capacity every day this week pressing grapes for our Napa Valley sauvignon blanc and even received some fruit today, Sunday! Sugars and acids are balanced, flavors are lovely and our first white tanks have completed fermentation without a hitch. The weather continues to be fantastic and cooperative with mid- to high 80’s during the day and cooling down to the mid-50’s at night. Many growers have commented that they are finding the harvest to be compressed, with multiple varietals being ready to pick in a short time frame. We’ll be wrapping up whites on Tuesday, Sept. 9, and have already scheduled our first cabernet (St. Helena AVA) to come in on Wednesday. The fruit looks gorgeous! Rutherford reds look to be ready in another 10-14 days and with two-thirds of the fruit in, we are all dreaming of unprecedented late fall camping trips!”

Oakville — Molly Hodgins, Flora Springs Winery, “A return to mild weather after last week’s heat spike has given wineries a chance to harvest mature grapes before overly ripe sugar levels get out of hand. In Oakville, we are harvesting chardonnay and merlot while cabs and other red varieties continue to mature. Most blocks of fruit are coming in one or two weeks ahead of normal schedule, setting up a very busy time in the next few weeks.”

Atlas Peak – Jan Krupp, Stagecoach Vineyards – “Hang time continues on Atlas Peak given our relatively mild weather. Wonderful whites continue to be harvested but most wineries are waiting patiently for perfection in the reds. We are close but not quite there yet.”

Stags Leap District – Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock Winery – “The return of foggy mornings and a bit of cooling brought a holding pattern in the Stags Leap District. Our friends at Shafer report that after having harvested a bit of cabernet, merlot, syrah and chardonnay, they would start again at the end of this week. Remi Cohen and her team at Cliff Lede continue to work on merlot and look to bring in some SLD cabernet later this week. Michael Beaulac, winemaker at Pine Ridge, has brought in their SLD cabernet and by end of week will have cabernet sauvignon in tank. At Chimney Rock, we have one tank of merlot but we’ll have a few more to dote on by the end of this week. Our first cabernet sauvignon will grace our crush pad by early next week and we wait with bated breath.”

Oak Knoll District – Jon Ruel, Trefethen Vineyards & Winery – “Morning fog has been giving way to warm sunny afternoons and the grapes continue to ripen beautifully. Pinot noir and riesling are all done and we are actively picking chardonnay, as each block becomes ready. We have also brought in small amounts of cabernet franc, malbec and merlot. The cabernet sauvignon is not far behind.”

Coombsville – Don Baker, Sciandri Family Vineyards – “Sauvignon blanc harvest is complete. Merlot, pinot noir and syrah are coming in now; chardonnay is close behind. The weather couldn’t be more perfect for yet another excellent crush. The incredible camaraderie of the Napa Valley remains very much in evidence as friends, neighbors, growers, harvesters, cellar crews, winemakers, family and friends continue to help out one another following the earthquake. I am so proud to be part of this remarkable community.”

Carneros – Lee Hudson, Hudson Vineyards – “What a post-Labor Day week. We have been unusually busy. We have picked more fruit this August than in any proceeding August. Non-stop at our maximum rate. Beautiful fruit incredible potential. At this rate we could be done by Oct. 1. Hard to believe!”

Wild Horse Valley – John Newmeyer, Heron Lake Vineyard – “This is the year’s busiest time. All the pinot Noir came in on Wednesday (Sept. 3), with Brix at 23.5 and tonnage well above the 15-year average but still nearly a fifth less than 2013’s bumper crop. The chardonnay is approaching 23 Brix and will be picked later this week. The late summer weather has been perfect in our little upland valley, and the critters (turkeys, wild pigs, etc.) haven’t been a problem.”

For real-time harvest photos and updates, visit the Napa Valley Vintners’ Harvest 2014 website at napavintners.com/harvest.

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St. Helena Reporter

Jesse has been a reporter for the St. Helena Star since 2006.

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