With the cabernet sauvignon harvest kicking into high gear, some growers are predicting to be done with harvest by the beginning of October — an unprecedentedly early finish to the season.
Last week’s rainfall had no appreciable effect on the vineyards, where the only grapes still on the vine are tough, thick-skinned varieties like cabernet sauvignon.
“I predict all our grapes will be in before the 1st of October — a first in my 15 years at the winery,” said Elizabeth Vianna of Chimney Rock Winery.
Here’s the next installment of the 2015 harvest report, organized by American Viticultural Areas:
Calistoga — Matt Crafton, Chateau Montelena – “Another exciting week in Calistoga as most of remaining thin-skin varieties (zinfandel, petite sirah, etc.) were picked ahead of the midweek shower. There was so much activity on Wednesday morning north of Larkmead Lane that I really didn’t need my headlights at 6 a.m. The Bordelaise varieties weathered the half-inch of rain well with high temps and brisk breezes on Friday dispelling any bunch rot concerns. Thankfully, the westerly winds have held up and the smoke from the Valley Fire has remained to our northeast. Some wineries are heading into the home stretch this week with a few of our neighbors planning to be picked out this weekend. At CMW, we’re moving into our Bale Loam and Cole Silt Loam soils, which always tend to run a bit behind. Still, I can’t see us having anything hanging into October.”
Howell Mountain — Pat Stotesbery, Ladera Vineyards – “Picking of all reds is now in full swing. A few people are totally picked out with most everyone else fully engaged. The earlier heat spiked sugars but the current weather has actually brought them down some and the fruit is coming in in excellent condition.
Quantities are down and, in some cases, significantly so. I have heard numbers as low as 60 percent of last year. This is due to a combination of early shatter plus smaller berry size. Harvest could be over by the first full week in October.”
Diamond Mountain District — Dawnine Dyer, Dyer Vineyards – “Two weeks that saw a record heat wave, a fire, and rain have been followed by ideal late fall weather and the list of Diamond Mountain vineyards with fruit still hanging is starting to dwindle to those at higher elevations. J Davies took a break in the middle of harvest to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the family winery — congratulations to the Davies Family! Seaver will pick this week. While yields continue to be the biggest concern with 30-50 percent off last year being the norm, the talk is beginning to turn to quality — all reports are of small berries and concentrated flavors. Small can be beautiful.”
Chiles Valley District — Alexander Eisele, Volker Eisele Family Estate – “This week our District received about a quarter-inch of rain. No negative effects reported, just some nice dust control. We have no reports of any impact from the recent wildfire either. The first producer to be finished with harvest in the District reported outstanding quality, though 25 percent lower than average yields. The first cabernet (hillside fruit) was picked and it looks like some merlot and cabernet franc are right around the corner. The forecast of milder temperatures should assist in getting the remaining fruit in balance.”
Spring Mountain District — Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone Winery — “With just over an inch of rain last week, harvest slowed down considerably. This week most folks are finishing their merlot and are waiting a little longer for the cabernet sauvignon to ripen. York Creek is very happy that their zinfandel, merlot and petite syrah came in heavier than expected. Both Keenan and Spring Mountain wineries are only modestly down from last year, yet all of us have at least one if not several blocks that have yields that are dramatically down (60-plus percent) from last year. Stony Hill and Smith-Madrone finished last week and Schweiger will finish this week. The color, flavor profiles and chemistry continue to impress us all.”
St. Helena — Bob Egelhoff, Egelhoff Wines — “As we complete the second heat wave in as many weeks, the vines are holding up well. We have sugar ripeness but unfortunately still missing the balance obtained with overall vine ripeness. Conn Valley still exhibits good turgidity of the skins and a bit of tartness in the taste. The cooling trend that began Tuesday will allow for a little more hang time and benefit the grapes harvested within the next two weeks. Overall, the light crop is being estimated at 20-40 percent down from pre-harvest estimates. The rain was welcomed for our landscaping but did little more than settle the dust in the vineyards. No rain is forecast for the next 10 days and will allow everyone to wrap up a successful harvest.”
Rutherford — Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyard & Winery — “How is it that in the span of less than a week it can be 104 degrees at 5 p.m. and 64 degrees at 5 p.m.? Ten percent humidity and 100 percent humidity (rain)? The winemaking team is ever-patient with me when I state, ‘The plan for the next few days is … ‘ as I erase and rewrite the picking schedule, yet again. Remarkably the grapes and vines have weathered the push-pull of the weather, even if our nerves are a bit frayed. As we approach the first day of autumn and pass the halfway point of cabernet harvest, we are seeing fermentations progress nicely and beautiful wines coming out of the fermenter. Another full week ahead should put us close to wrapping up the 2015 harvest … I think!”
Oakville — Molly Hodgins, Flora Springs Winery — "Harvest continues at a steady pace. The bit of rain we received last week provided a little respite from picking and a relief from this year’s dusty conditions. But the fall-like weather didn’t last long, and the heat of last weekend picked everything right back up again. We are still picking cabernet sauvignon in Oakville and we will be for a few more days. Right now, it looks like all of our 95 acres in Oakville will be picked out by the end of next week and maybe even before Oct. 1. Ojalá!"
Yountville — Anthony Bell, Bell Wine Cellars — “All the chardonnay was brought in from our vineyard, and is fermenting – looks and smells beautiful. The recent heat has helped nudge things along nicely. That said, our merlot is still hanging, flavor slowly building. Julie Nord reports, ‘All the red varieties have ripened and we are picking merlot, syrah, petite sirah and cabernet all in the same week. With the warm weather we will stay busy for the next two weeks.’ Our friends at Keever say, ‘Brought in the first cab off our ranch. Looked and tasted good but much lighter yield than last year.’ With luck, everything will be picked before the end of the month.”
Atlas Peak — Jan Krupp, Stagecoach Vineyards — “Harvest is at full throttle on Atlas Peak. Quality of the cabernet sauvignon being picked is amazing confirming a fourth stellar year in a row for our sub-appellation. The yields for cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and syrah are markedly below average with some vineyards being down 79-80 percent and the average being closer to a 40 percent decrease.”
Stags Leap District — Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock Winery — “This past week I saw harvest lights illuminating the sky from Hartwell, Regusci, Shafer and here at Chimney Rock as I drove in before sunrise. Quoting winemaker Marcus Notaro, winemaker at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, it has been ‘fast and furious,’ with harvest activity in Stags Leap District this week. Michael Beaulac tells me that ‘spirits are high,’ as his team finished harvesting his SLD estate fruit. He further reports that anthocyanin numbers are high and tannins are beautifully extractable along with very small berries. Elias Fernandez, winemaker at Shafer Vineyards, reports they, too, have finished harvesting their SLD fruit and predicted a final harvest day sometime this week. At Chimney Rock, our own ‘fast and furious’ continues as we come closer to the finish line. We are in full gear with the cabernet harvest, our busiest time. Our team is a bit tired, but also exhilarated by it all. I predict all our grapes will be in before the 1st of October — a first in my 15 years at the winery.”
Mount Veeder — Sander Scheer, The Hess Collection Winery — “Lots of activity here on Mount Veeder this week. The last round of warm days helped us with flavors that were not quite there yet in the cabernet. We’ve started with our younger cabernet blocks in the warmest zones. All the syrah is in as of late last week. Still working on the malbec, which is light but has held together well and showing great quality. Weather looks good for the next 10-plus days, so we’re hopeful we can keep the cab out there into next month.”
Oak Knoll District — Jon Ruel, Trefethen Vineyards & Winery — “The 2015 wild ride continues. I can’t remember the last time we had temps over 100 degrees and rain in the same week! Fortunately, the whites are already off the vine (seems like months ago) and the remaining cabernet sauvignon can handle this weather. Most growers in the OKD are reporting lower than average yields and quality appears to be excellent. The early timing has sparked some debate about how we define grape maturity, as highlighted in this comment from Steve Moulds, local grower and current president of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers: ‘The fruit is tasting amazing, but still anomalous for the partly green rachis we observe.’ Robert Biale Vineyards brought in their final OKD lot on Sept. 11, their earliest finish ever. Winemaker Tres Goetting commented, ‘the wines are tasting really nice with fresh acidity and lovely red fruit and spice components.’ Here at Trefethen, we are about 80 percent done and on track to finish around the first week of October.”
Coombsville — Don Baker, Sciandri Family Vineyards — “The heat wave we had recently really pushed the sugars up. Red grapes of all varieties are being harvested throughout Coombsville four weeks ahead of normal average picking dates. One Vineyard, the Sciandri Family Vineyards, harvested all of their cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and meritage grapes last Saturday the 19th. This is five weeks ahead of their normal picking dates of around Halloween. Overall, grape tonnage is light due to the ‘shatter’ that was experienced in June. However, quality is extremely high with wonderful aromas and flavors. This harvest has the makings of another banner year quality-wise. Too bad there isn’t more juice in the tanks.”
Carneros — Lee Hudson, Hudson Vineyards – “This last week in Carneros was cool and calm. Temperatures dropped and picking slowed to a near stop. Wednesday’s light rain had the positive effect of dusting off the fruit. We brought in small amounts of merlot, cabernet franc and syrah, all having great concentration of flavor and good acidities. 2015 continues its trend of lower yields and great quality.
Wild Horse Valley —John Newmeyer, Heron Lake Vineyard – “The light rain up in Wild Horse Valley cleared the air, settled the dust, and gave an autumn aspect to our vineyard area. We’re nearly done for the year: everything harvested, crushed, and fermenting away or already pressed-out and barreled down – just about as early as ever. Beginning to see fall colors in the vine leaves.”
For real-time harvest photos and updates, visit the Napa Valley Vintners’ Harvest 2015 website at napavintners.com/harvest.