Duckhorn Vineyards' 40th harvest

Duckhorn’s 40th harvest began at 2 a.m., Friday, Aug. 25, at Duckhorn’s Marlee’s Vineyards in St. Helena. The workers picked sauvignon blanc grapes. With the advent of cooler weather in late September, the picking of the grapes has slowed to a crawl throughout the Napa Valley.

Submitted photo

Just in time, the warm weather arrived, pushing grapes to their fullest ripeness and starting crews picking grapes again. There’s still a lot of fruit out there and it looks like cabernet sauvignon grapes won’t be picked until mid-October in most areas.

From north to south, here are the harvest reports by AVA (American Viticultural Appellation):

Calistoga – Matt Crafton, Chateau Montelena, “After another bout of cool weather this week, the story of 2017 seems to be a tale of two harvests as the remaining fruit on the vine is shaping up to be quite different from what was picked a few weeks ago during the heat. In general, for those who have been able to take advantage of the additional hangtime, flavor and color development are back in sync and maturation marches on. The dry, warm northeast breeze that began Saturday has pushed a number of vineyards past the finish line as picking across the AVA has accelerated.”

Howell Mountain – Alan Pierson and Erin Smith, O’Shaughnessy Estate Winery, “In the last week, the weather has cooled down giving us temperatures that didn’t get above 80. This week will see a change, as there is potential for reaching temperatures in the upper 80s. These ideal weather conditions have allowed more time for fruit maturation, which will ultimately result in better quality wines. At this time of year, patience is key to obtain optimum ripening.”

Diamond Mountain District – Dawnine Dyer, Dyer Vineyards, “One by one the vineyards on Diamond Mountain are starting to pick. J Schram is starting with malbec and Mueller will be picking two blocks of cabernet this week. Further up the mountain, Constant is just now picking their two rows of chardonnay. Sampling has gotten more serious and reported sugar levels of 22 and 23 are common — putting the main wave of the cabernet harvest into the middle of October. Phil Steinschriber at Diamond Creek summed it up, ‘…still waiting! Cooler weather has slowed things down and I believe it was needed.’ The forecast is good!”

Chiles Valley District – Alexander Eisele, Volker Eisele Family Estate, “The past week has brought cool weather slowing the ripening of all fruit dramatically. The seven-day forecast looks to be very promising with highs of 80-87 and lows of 54-58 degrees. This should help move things along. The past week saw a little zinfandel being picked but all together very little action. Hang time!”

Spring Mountain District – Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone, “The warmer weather has spurred more harvesting on Spring Mountain, but not by much. Many of us are picking some cabernet and merlot, yet others are waiting until next week. Mike Chelini at Stony Hill thinks he’ll be finishing up harvest on Friday with his cabernet sauvignon. Mike is pleased that the crop is larger than last year and that it has great chemistry and great flavors – ‘I like the vintage a lot.’”

St. Helena – Doug Boeschen, Boeschen Vineyards, “We’ve been twiddling our thumbs during the milder temperatures of the last couple weeks. Many of our sugars have moved backward during this time, so we’re happy to see a little heat this week. We picked merlot last week, and a very small block of cabernet, but 80 percent of the ranch is still hanging out there and looking great. I expect we’ll see things pick up pretty quickly over the next 7-10 days.”

Rutherford – Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyard & Winery, “The ‘moment’ to catch our breath has turned out to be longer than anticipated. No fruit has crossed the crush pad since Wednesday of last week! However, the warm fall days are proving to push ripening ahead and picking looks like it will resume at a feverish pace. Vineyard managers who were searching for mature fruit last week are now booked up solid for the next week. Our first Rutherford cabernet will arrive on Wednesday, Sept. 27, only three days later than last year. With only 15 percent of our cabernet in as of Monday, the next couple of weeks will be full of activity.”

Oakville – Linda Neal, Tierra Roja Vineyards, “Harvest tapped the brakes as cold weather enveloped Oakville. Harvest continued at a muted pace as the grapes decided a little more ‘hang time’ was in order. Graeme MacDonald reported, ‘We will be commencing harvest next week at our place. I’m ring rolling the soil and trying to get in some of the cover crop beforehand to save some work when I have transition to winery work.’ Indeed, a lot of gardening, clean-up, fertilizing and other chores put off during the rush of harvest were being caught up as we make sure we don’t lose the harvest crews for lack of work.’

Variability of yields continues. Doug Stanton said, ‘The merlot came off before dehydration and yield was up 8 percent over 2016. We picked cab on Friday for Groth, down 15 percent due to small berries and light clusters.’”

Yountville – Anthony Bell, Bell Wine Cellars, “Our Yountville chardonnay is harvested and fermenting nicely. Recent temperatures have allowed us to catch our breath for the moment as we continue to wait on our reds to develop mature flavors. A warmer week ahead has us anticipating most blocks to reach full maturity within the next 10 days. Our earlier blocks of cabernet are scheduled to arrive at the winery at the end of the week.”

Atlas Peak – Gabrielle Shaffer, Stagecoach Vineyard, “We are seeing the temperatures creep up and begin to push the grape ripening again. The bit of lag time was starting to make a lot of folks nervous about what it could mean for the potential pacing of the season. The intense north winds on Atlas Peak can often dehydrate fruit quickly. Some of the raisins that happened with the earlier intense heat spells are causing brix to soak up in the tank and taking winemakers by surprise. With all these things in mind we are scheduling a lot of picks now and are excited to get into our harvest grove.”

Stags Leap District – Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock winery, “This week in Stags Leap District proved that the rhythms of harvest can be wildly unpredictable. A mild week of weather with temperature in the 70s seemed to slow things down a bit. We spent lots of time in the vineyards monitoring things and decided that nothing is quite there yet. Remi Cohen at Cliff Lede Vineyards says, ‘After a lull in harvest due to cooler weather, we have started harvesting cabernet again at Cliff Lede as we are headed into a period of forecasted warmer weather.’ She anticipated a busy week of harvesting. Marcus Notaro, winemaker at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, said he and his crew enjoyed that lull and were awaiting the heat to get going again on cabernet sauvignon. Elias Fernandez, winemaker at Shafer Vineyards says, ‘Slow pickings! We are crushing a bit every day. We are half way done with Hillside cabernet and waiting for some heat to get things going again.’ At Chimney Rock, we continue to nurse our merlot tanks and walk vineyards obsessively and we are certain that the next warm up is exactly what we need to round out our cabernet sauvignon flavors.”

Mount Veeder – Sander Scheer, The Hess Collection, “At this point we have dipped into the picking the reds but we have only just begun. Younger vineyard blocks on the rockiest ground are the portions of the mountain that we have harvested so far. Our cabernet is knocking on the door but will still continue to benefit from more time on the vine. The recent warm up should give us the flavor development we’re looking for. While patience can be difficult when waiting for the maturity we’re looking for, it is consistently the right call to wait. We’ve worked all year to get the vines to this point so harvest date is very important!”

Oak Knoll District – Jon Ruel, Trefethen Vineyards, “It has been pretty quiet in our vineyard. With our white varieties all picked, the remaining reds have been left out, for now, to enjoy the fine fall weather. Temperatures are on the rise again this week, which may provide a nice final push towards ideal ripeness. I don’t have any news from other local growers which makes me think that they have been waiting as well.”

Carneros – Christopher Hyde, Hyde Vineyards, “As the weather heats up again, we look forward to continuing harvest in Carneros, which has been slowed down by a cool weather front. We are experiencing cold autumn nights and mornings, with warmer daytime weather which is expected to push the fruit that is still hanging to ripeness in the next couple of weeks.”

Wild Horse Valley – John Newmeyer, Heron Lake Vineyard, “All done! Everything is either fermenting or safely in barrels for the winter. Various needs were met: from brix just above 20 for a Rose project, up to 25 for ‘sweet, ripe Pinot Noir.’ Our picking crews did great work under challenging conditions. The workers are so unlike those of 30 years ago — older, better-paid, newer cars, and more professional.”

For real-time harvest photos and updates, visit the Napa Valley Vintners’ Harvest 2017 website at napavintners.com/harvest

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David Stoneberg is the editor of the St. Helena Star, an award-winning weekly newspaper. Prior to joining the Star in 2006, he worked for the Lake County Record-Bee, the Clear Lake Observer American, the Middletown Times Star, The Weekly Calistogan and st