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These grapes were picked from the Chiles Valley District.

Submitted photo

The harvest of 2015 is over for many growers, who are looking back on another typically atypical year of Napa Valley grapegrowing.

“The first week of October usually coincides with the first rush of cabernet grapes coming off the vines,” writes Kristin Belair of Honig Vineyard & Winery. “How peculiar it is that most of the grapes are picked, and many fermentations are finished.”

Growers also continue to report very low yields, but very high quality.

Here’s the final installment of the 2015 harvest report, organized by American Viticultural Areas:

Calistoga — Matt Crafton, Chateau Montelena – “It officially feels like fall now and despite the overwhelming sense of finality as canopies shut down and oak trees drop their leaves, I did see a picking crew on Grant Street this morning. That is one impressive display of patience. Tasting through our tanks in the cellar, there is certainly much to be excited about as the wine quality looks to be excellent. That alone makes this bizarre year worth it. An old-timer told me last week that it’s the strange ones that you remember. Those are where the best stories come from. I certainly agree.”

Howell Mountain — Pat Stotesbery, Ladera Vineyards – “Can’t quite call it a total wrap but it is very close. Most folks are either complete or will be by or before the end of the week. There are a few straggler blocks here and there but they don’t amount to much in total tonnage. Talk at the fermenters is that it is a great quality year but it sounds like most people are down up to 40 percent off of last year in tonnage. Small and loose clusters with great flavors promise some awesome wines; even if there is less of it than normal.”

Chiles Valley District — Alexander Eisele, Volker Eisele Family Estate – “It is hard to imagine that the harvest is over, when we look back and realize that many years we would be harvesting through Oct. 30-31. This concludes a year that in many ways did not present any real problems other than the lower yields in some varietals. Overall the cluster size as well as the berry size was smaller than normal. Reasonable Brix to acid ratio with all parameters pointing to a quality vintage. Now it is time to work on erosion control and to pray for rain.”

Spring Mountain District — Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone Winery — “While most of the mountain has completed harvest, a few have not. The recent weather has been fabulous and with no rain in sight there’s not a lot of urgency by some. York Creek, Pride and Kieu Hoang still have a substantial percentage to go before finishing in several weeks, while 7 & 8 and Sherwin are harvesting this week and may finish this week or next.”

St. Helena — Richie Allen, Rombauer Vineyards — “This year’s harvest brought the earliest start in our 35-year history, and with an early start came an early finish. Our last grapes, cabernet sauvignon from our Stice Lane Vineyard in the southern part of the St. Helena appellation, came in last Monday, Sept. 28. While yields were down, the quality of the fruit was exceptional. Prolonged warm weather rushed ripening along to a quick finish. With richly flavored whites and great color and flavor in the reds, another classic Napa vintage is all but done.”

Rutherford — Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyard & Winery — “The first week of October usually coincides with the first rush of cabernet grapes coming off the vines. How peculiar it is that most of the grapes are picked, and many fermentations are finished. The usual harvest conversation for this time of year is, ‘How much do you have in?’ This vintage it is, ‘When did you finish?’ With the last of the fruit arriving at Honig on Sept. 30, the pace now becomes more measured as we patiently press red fermenters and barrel down the new wines, which are looking spectacular, by the way.”

Yountville — Anthony Bell, Bell Wine Cellars — “2015 has been a year that started early and ended early, but in general (it was) very evenly paced. Crop yields were affected by the chilly, humid spring but not uniformly – some varietals managed to get through bloom and set unscathed. Young wines look to be of excellent quality with deep color and lovely fruit aromas, and initial analysis shows no serious impacts from the series of heat waves we experienced. Overall yields are about 18 percent off but it is safe to say that whilst we will not have the expected quantity to sell in upcoming years, the quality will be exceptional.”

Stags Leap District — Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock Winery — “If you were to ask a winemaker what makes a harvest memorable, the answer would likely be a unanimous, ‘every harvest is memorable.’ There is always something that makes a new vintage unique: rain, heat, wind, an earthquake, wildfires, yield, quality. An indelible memory for a vintner is formed each year and it is unlikely to ever be deleted. For the 2015 vintage in Stags Leap District, ‘early’ was the key word. Several producers including Shafer, Pine Ridge, Cliff Lede, and Chimney Rock were finished harvesting the SLD appellation fruit by Oct. 1 – a rare occurrence. Elias Fernandez, winemaker at Shafer Vineyards, reports that he sees ‘beautiful dark colors with more tannin intensity feel than usual for Stags Leap District wines.’ Another dry, warm year has gifted us with smaller yields, beautifully concentrated flavors and density of color at this early stage. Now it is time to return to the cellar and deliver the promise of another good year.”

Mount Veeder — Sander Scheer, The Hess Collection Winery — “We’re still picking away up here on Veeder. Looks like late next week to get it wrapped up. We’re hoping that the mild weather in the forecast holds together. If so we can bring in the balance of our crop in a smooth uneventful way. Hats off to all the passionate hardworking folks on this hillside who get it done. All the best to everyone as the 2015 vintage comes to a close. Fingers crossed for a wet winter!”

Oak Knoll District — Jon Ruel, Trefethen Vineyards & Winery — “We picked our last block of cabernet sauvignon on Saturday, completing our harvest at the earliest date in our 47-year history. The 2015 wines, some already dry but many still fermenting, are tasting wonderful. It feels great to have the grapes all in, well ahead of what we hope will be a very wet rainy season. We are preparing the vineyard for winter by planting cover crop seeds and, on the hillside, making sure that all elements of our erosion control plan are in place. After the first significant frost, when the leaves fall to the ground, we will turn our attention to pruning the vines, setting them up for vintage 2016, as the cycle of the vine continues.”

Wild Horse Valley —John Newmeyer, Heron Lake Vineyard – “Autumn has fully arrived at our little upland valley: the moister air has cleaned away September’s dust, the vine leaves are half changed to yellow, and the winemaking work is well behind us. Time for reflection: do three super-early harvests in a row augur a permanent climate change for our hillside vines? Or will things return to ‘normal’ in future years?”

For real-time harvest photos and updates, visit the Napa Valley Vintners’ Harvest 2015 website at


St. Helena Reporter

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

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