King Paulie Steinhauer blessing of the grapes, August 2017

Winemaker Paul Steinhauer, who has worked at Flora Springs Winery & Vineyards for the past 26 years, used a saber to bless the winery’s Oakville sauvignon blanc grapes that came in Monday morning.

Submitted photo

The winter, with its abundant rain and the ensuing growing season that was perfect for ripening wine grapes has many growers optimistic about the 2017 harvest. For some, workers are already harvesting their sauvignon blanc and chardonnay grapes; others, though, are waiting for the first grapes to cross the crushpad.

Calistoga – Matt Crafton, winemaker, Chateau Montelena Winery, “Time flies. I wasn’t quite ready to give up on summer and that beautiful weather we’ve experienced for most of August. But here we are with a full crushpad as chardonnay snakes its way Upvalley to us. Although the heat over the last few days has been oppressive at times, most of the sensitive semillon and sauvignon blanc here in Calistoga had been picked before the latest onset. In the meantime, we’re staying busy in vineyards dropping any remaining green fruit, while keeping an eye on vine stress and the weather to come.”

Howell Mountain – Alan Pierson and Erin Smith, O’Shaughnessy Estate Winery Vineyard Team, “Howell Mountain, with its high elevation and diverse topography lends itself to a wide range of climactic conditions. Though the spring frost was prevalent almost on a nightly basis, our phenologic data shows us that even with the cool spring, budbreak was what we would consider average. Moderate temperatures into bloom and more elevated temperatures on the latter side of this stage led to a sound fruit set. Favorable weather followed bloom and then July came with ideal conditions coaxing us into veraison. Today, most vineyards on The Mountain are nearing or have completed veraison.”

Diamond Mountain District – Dawnine Dyer, Dyer Vineyards, “While temperatures in the low 100s are the norm this week, Diamond Mountain vineyards have just finished veraison and harvest is still at least a month away. Both the Vineyardist and Dyer Vineyard are estimating harvest dates early in October. Crops look good with just a little effect from shatter during an extended bloom. These hot days don’t seem to be causing a problem with the canopies and we’re waiting and watching. More later!”

Chiles Valley District – Alexander Eisele, Eisle Vineyards, “Record rainfall (approximately 55 inches), beautiful timing in between storms gave us what we needed more than anything. Bud break got off to a slightly later start than the previous several years, we didn’t experience any setbacks during the key points of the season and so far we have seen beautiful uniformity of the ripening. Nice moisture in the soils as well as timely irrigation helped us withstand the heat spikes throughout the summer season. So far no negative effects from the heat.”

Spring Mountain District – Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone, “Harvest has begun on Spring Mountain with Spring Mountain winery harvesting small quantities of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir. Both Stony Hill and Smith-Madrone are pushing hard into their chardonnay blocks. Clearly the warm weather has advanced harvesting, yet rain showers and low clouds in late May played mischief with set on certain high elevation blocks during bloom that resulted in small berries and below average production. Fortunately, the chemistry and flavors indicate an excellent vintage.”

St. Helena – Matt Reid, winemaker, Benessere Vineyards, “What crazy temperature swings of late! Although we still await our first St. Helena AVA grapes, the recent heat wave will soon reveal whether we start next week with sangiovese for Rosato or old vine zinfandel from our neighbors at the Collins Vineyard. After a long and relatively moderate growing season, we expect typical yields and outstanding quality.”

Rutherford – Kristin Belair, winemaker, Honig Vineyard & Winery, “Our first sauvignon blanc arrived early in the morning on Aug. 17 and is now halfway through fermentation, exhibiting lots of lovely peachy aromas. Rutherford appellation Sauvignon Blanc began arriving Aug. 25. Harvest brings so many surprises! Going from cool foggy mornings to, shall we say, “ridiculously” warm weather, we’ll be in full swing all week and likely into the following week. We keep eyeing the weather reports and have just started checking brix on our earlier cabernet sauvignon vineyards. The anticipation is just too much! Here’s to a fantastic 2017 vintage!”

Oakville – Linda Neal, grower, Tierra Roja Vineyard, “Yount Mill kicked off the Oakville season on Aug. 9, harvesting for sparkling wines, with other white varietals quickly following, reports Kendall Hoxsey-Onysko. Turnbull follows with sauvignon blanc at the winery on Aug. 23. Winemaker Peter Heitz writes, “The flavors are fantastic!” Flora Springs may have started two days later, but did so with a saber flourish as winemaker Paul Steinhauer christens the first load. Groth will be right on their heels as Cameron Parry predicts an Aug. 30 start, also with Sauv Blanc. Ren Harris, Paradigm, speaks for the reds: “Right now we are in a holding pattern.” Nils Venge set the tone for our start, “A beautiful set and crop level for all varietals.”

Yountville – Sanda Hewitt Bell, Bell Wine Cellars, “Yountville, in the southern end of the valley, has experienced unusual temperatures this year. A half dozen repeated and extended hot spells have followed a chilly, damp spring. Plentiful water during the early growing season resulted in vigorous growth and required diligent canopy management. A protracted veraison gave rise to variable fruit maturity; since evened out by the hot weather. Most sauvignon blanc vineyards will be harvested within the week.”

Atlas Peak – Gabrielle Shaffer, viticulture and winery relations manager, “Stagecoach Vineyard kicked off harvest in Atlas Peak on Monday with a sauvignon blanc parcel. The grapes were looking great and tasting spectacular. Fruit loads seem generally balanced across all varietals this vintage and the canopies are there to support it. This most recent heat spike has those of us on Atlas Peak a bit concerned as vines are already stressed this time of year and our rocky, well-drained soils can be fairly unforgiving. That said, we are excited to get this harvest season started and look forward to the bounties to come. There is more sauvignon blanc on the schedule and certainly with this weather we’ll be jumping into the red varietals before we know it.”

Stags Leap District – Elizabeth Vianna, winemaker, Chimney Rock Winery: “In Stags Leap District things are still quiet on the harvest front. Elias Fernandez, winemaker at Shafer Vineyards, says, “Nothing going on — looks like we are 1.5-2.5 Brix behind last year.” Remi Cohen, Vice President of Cliff Lede Vineyards, reports that, “Flavors are starting to develop in the merlot and malbec, tannins have softened and seeds have started to brown.” Their forecast is to harvest some of the earlier blocks the week after Labor Day. At Chimney Rock, we are busy with pre-harvest activities and still racking and blending our 2016 reds. Our hillside merlot vineyard is the closest to ripeness, but still a few weeks away.”

Mount Veeder – Sander Scheer, director of viticulture, The Hess Collection, “The Mt. Veeder 2017 vintage is looking good to this point. Our cabernet crop looks to be slightly above average which we attribute to ideal weather during the bloom period and the rainfall we experienced this year. The recent heat should kick things in to gear with the Mountain Chardonnay soon. The cellar is buzzing with activity as they make final preparations. On the vineyard side we’re busy making one last pass with the crew to thin fruit and watching the vines closely to determine the need for irrigation to make it to picking day. Forecast calls for warm weather to continue so things could get interesting very soon.”

Oak Knoll District – Jon Ruel, CEO, Trefethen Family Vineyards, “Harvest is definitely upon us in the Oak Knoll District, with growers wrapping up the pinot noir for sparkling wines and starting to pick sauvignon blanc and chardonnay for still wines. The grapes look and taste fantastic as the vines benefited from record rainfall in the winter and warm weather throughout the growing season. At Trefethen, we started picking a little earlier than average but not as early as in 2015 and 2016. The pace of harvest will depend on the weather still to come, of course, but this week looks hot and we’re already busy!”

Coombsville – Tom Farella, Farella Vineyard, “The 2017 growing season has been a series of dramatic changes including weeks of cool, foggy mornings punctuated by strong heat waves. Also, three monsoonal rain events that were close calls here in Coombsville but no damage reported. Some of the heat spikes were stronger Upvalley and more moderated here closer to the bay. All in all, the crop looks good after all the fluctuations and harvest begins for us this week with our first load of sauvignon blanc.”

Carneros – Chris Hyde, Hyde Vineyards, “Harvest in Carneros is in full swing. The hot weather of late has pushed the grapes to ripeness, after a short cool spell. With this heat, sparkling wine grapes, pinot noir and chardonnay, will be picked in what promises to be a highly impacted harvest.”

Wild Horse Valley – John Newmeyer, Heron Lake Vineyard, “For once, our little upland world enjoyed a “normal” growing season: ample rainfall to fill our reservoirs, budbreak right on time at the Equinox, no frost damage, no rain damage, and no excessive heat (at least until this week). Crop sizes look like our 35-year average.”

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

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