Rainfall on Friday and Saturday did little to dampen the spirits of local grape growers, who are still pleased with this year’s unusually early harvest.
The rain brought harvest, which is already into the cabernet sauvignon phase, to a “screeching halt,” said Volker Eisele of Eisele Vineyards.
“The total of 0.6 inches did not do any damage to the fruit, but it made every cluster so wet that it just made picking impossible,” Eisele said Monday, predicting that harvest would resume by Tuesday, Sept. 24.
Here’s the latest installment of the 2013 harvest report, organized by American Viticultural Areas:
Calistoga — Paul Smith, Vermeil Wines at OnThEdge Winery — “With most whites fermenting and tanks and picking schedules filling, this week promises to be quite busy, inducing some growers to pick during the rains. The forecast for warm, breezy weather should mitigate any of the rain’s significant negative effects. Harvesting will be brisk, focusing on the remaining tight-clustered varieties (zinfandel, petite sirah) while cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc crushing will pick up. Both growers and wineries remain happy with fruit quality.”
Diamond Mountain District — Dawnine Dyer, Dyer Vineyards — “Harvest on Diamond Mountain is in full gear. This week and next will see most of the fruit off the vine and in the fermenter. Sugar accumulation has slowed and flavor and acid balances are fantastic. It's possible that 2013 will rival the fabulous 2012 vintage. Yields remain variable, but most are reporting similar yields to last year. Got to run — there are grapes to be picked!”
Howell Mountain — Pat Stotesbery, Ladera Vineyards — “In reviewing my notes from this time last year, things now seem to be one week or more ahead. The recent cool weather has slowed things down and stopped the meteoric rise in sugars. Progress ranges from lots of cabernet picked to maybe starting this week to no cab at all yet. Everyone has their fingers on the trigger, though, and it will now depend on the heat levels this week. Quantities are big across the board.”
Chiles Valley District — Volker Eisele, Eisele Vineyards — “It is always the weather that plays the key role in our lives. Until Friday night it was fabulous. More hillside cabernet sauvignon was picked with exceptional results. The zinfandel harvest was in full swing and then everything came to a screeching halt because of the rain. There were two episodes of rain, one during the night from Friday into Saturday and the other on Saturday around noon. The total of 0.6 inches did not do any damage to the fruit, but it made every cluster so wet that it just made picking impossible. However, by Tuesday, Sept. 24, picking should be back in full swing. Since it is still very early, there is no fear or panic in the air.”
Spring Mountain District — Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone Winery — “Several of the wineries were looking at full cellars, so the rain delay in harvesting provided a welcome relief. Additionally, the rain settled the dust, cleaned off the grapes and leaves and just scrubbed the whole mountain until it sparkled. Because of the cool and windy weather following the rain, there is zero concern for rot. Spring Mountain Winery, Cain Cellars, Pride and York Creek Vineyards are far from being done. Stony Hill has finished, and Smith-Madrone and Keenan are nearing the end. The vines are holding up, but the small cabernet berries this year are giving lower than usual juice yields.”
St. Helena — George Watson, ONE Vineyard — “Watson family’s ONE Vineyard comprises six acres of midvalley rocky alluvial soil just north of St. Helena on Ehlers Lane. Our cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc have ripened early. Harvest started last week on the cab with 27-plus Brix and great flavors. This week our above-average harvest will be completed.”
Rutherford — Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyards & Winery — “The official last day of summer brought us a surprising three-quarters inch of rain. Just enough rain fell to settle the dust and wash summer off the leaves, leaving us with a clear, bright entrance into fall. Paul Jackson of Colinas Farming Company in Rutherford reports that the fruit is in perfect condition with high Brix, and winemakers are waiting for flavors to come into line with sugars levels. Merlot is coming in slightly lower than original quantity estimates, and it is too early yet to tell about what the cabernet yields will be. Paula Moschetti at Frog’s Leap Winery reported that they were about 90 percent done. Congratulations! Here at Honig, the sauvignon blanc fermentations are proceeding nicely, and the finished wines are showing lots of pretty fruit characters. We are about a third of the way through cabernet and it continues to impress us with deep color, flavors and rich tannins.”
Oakville — Molly Hodgins, Flora Springs Winery — “Last weekend’s rain brought a little bit of downtime to what had been a fast-paced harvest. Many wineries took a couple days off from picking to wait for things to dry out. The rainwater was mostly welcome, cleaning things off and keeping dust down without waterlogging soils and fruit. Now we are continuing to harvest chardonnay and starting to bring in lots of cabernet sauvignon, which by now has had sufficient time to develop nice dark-fruit flavors.”
Stags Leap District — Elizabeth Vianna, winemaker, Chimney Rock Winery — “In Stags Leap District this week, most of us have moved almost exclusively to harvesting cabernet sauvignon — in September! Remi Cohen at Cliff Lede Vineyards reports that their Poetry hillside vineyard and other cabernet blocks have been harvested. Kristy Melton, winemaker at Clos Du Val, tells me that her crew is planning Halloween costumes, as they will certainly be done with fermentation by then. She was preparing for the next tidal wave of cabernet when we spoke. Michael Beaulac, winemaker at Pine Ridge, rested from picking over the weekend and will be back at it on Tuesday, Sept. 24. At Chimney Rock, we, too, refrained from harvesting over the weekend with the threat of rain, and much more cabernet sauvignon heading to our crush pad very soon.”
Atlas Peak — Jan Krupp, Stagecoach Vineyards — “The last two weeks have been cool on Atlas Peak. Merlot, malbec and some cab are coming in with excellent tannins and flavors. Most of the cabernet on the mountain is still quite sweet despite Saturday’s 0.61 inches of rain. Cabernet flavors and tannins in most vineyards are almost there.”
Mount Veeder — Brian Nuss, Vinoce Vineyards/Twenty Rows — “Had a nice little rainstorm for our Mount Veeder Appellation tasting on Saturday and still over 300 people showed up at the Hess Winery. Nobody seemed phased by the rain, a lot of fruit still out there. Lagier/Meredith were very happy. They have all their grapes and say the harvest went great. Cabs will be hanging for at least two more weeks.”
Oak Knoll District — Jon Ruel, Trefethen Vineyards & Winery — “Although nobody was really wishing for rain, it came anyhow and provided a clear reminder that, even in the Napa Valley, we cannot actually control the weather. Thankfully, the sun came out again and the grapes dried off quickly. In the Oak Knoll District, most of the whites are already off the vine and most of the remaining reds can handle a little weather. Harvest is proceeding at a mild pace with growers and winemakers walking the blocks, tasting the grapes and checking the 10-day forecasts with renewed vigilance.”
Carneros — Lee Hudson, Hudson Vineyards — “What a beautiful week. Carneros Chardonnay 2013 draws to a near close and Saturday delivers us a nice rinse to settle the summer’s dust. On Sunday, the autumn equinox, the wind blew everything dry while we rested. Monday we’re picking merlot without skipping a beat. Many here in Carneros will be done with the 2013 harvest by Oct. 1; this will be a first for me and many others. Sometimes it’s nice just being lucky.”
Wild Horse Valley — John Newmeyer, Heron Lake Vineyard — “It rained heavily in our little valley on Saturday. We were certainly thankful that all our pinot noir had been picked — we could have had an immense spread of botrytis rot. Like many other wine growers, we worried about this question: Will this year’s huge harvests be accompanied by a ‘watering down’ of quality? We averaged 6 pounds of grapes per vine — far more than usual — and we were relieved to see good acid balance, nicely low pH, rich ripe fruit flavors and sugars just where we wanted them. Truly, 2013 has been a dream come true.”
Coombsville — Ken Bernards, Ancien Wines — “The overall health of the vines continues to show. They survived the heat with few signs of stress — although the ‘heat’ wasn’t really all that hot — and the acidity remains high. Berries are a little plump and yields over all varietals are high, yet the flavors are well developed and strong. Syrah and cabernet sauvignon will begin coming in very soon on some sites, but there are cooler pockets around Coombsville that will hold off for another week or two. Big yields, full ripeness, with high acidity, and without overly high sugar levels — and all coming in earlier than average. We’re tired, true, but we remain excited about this vintage.”
(For real-time harvest photos and updates, visit the Napa Valley Vintners’ Harvest 2013 website at napavintners.com/harvest.)