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Harvest

Grapes pour in during the early weeks of harvest.

Photo by Bob McClenahan for Napa Valley Vintners

The Napa Valley harvest could accelerate if forecasts predicting warmer weather turn out to be accurate.

For now, harvest continues at a slow but steady pace, with warm days and cool nights providing ideal weather for ripening and harvesting. Alan Pierson of O’Shaughnessy praises night harvest as “a wonderful thing, great for the guys and the fruit.”

Cathy Corison in St. Helena reports, “It’s the calm before the storm at Corison, but we’ve begun to pick our earliest blocks of cabernet, which grow on extremely gravelly sites. Getting excited.”

Here’s the latest installment of the 2016 harvest report, organized by American Viticultural Areas:

Calistoga — Matt Crafton, Chateau Montelena — “In yet another example of just how different the north and south sides of the valley can be, we picked our first red grapes of the year — dry-farmed, old-vine Calistoga zinfandel — on the same morning as we picked our sauvignon blanc from Oak Knoll. Those two rarely if ever cross paths on the crush pad. But cool temperatures and lingering fog do some interesting things. I fully expect to see more activity this week as the weather warms up and the early red varieties begin to ripen.”

Diamond Mountain District — Dawnine Dyer, Dyer Vineyards — “While nobody’s picking cab yet on Diamond Mountain, the acre of Gruner Veltliner at VonStrasser was picked last week! News of sampling has been trickling in all week, giving growers and winemakers plenty to think about. Up at Seaver Vineyards (800 feet elevation), cabernet is testing over 24 Brix, while at Sterling’s DMR to the north, merlot was just 21 on Aug. 29. Armstrong Ranch, with sugars in the 22, 23 Brix range, is targeting Sept. 13 for picking their earliest block. With higher temperatures expected later this week, things should fall in place quickly.”

Chiles Valley District – Alexander Eisele, Volker Eisele Family Estate – “Another week of mild daytime temperatures with cool nights has slowed the harvest activity. All sauvignon blanc has now been picked and the yields have been anywhere from light to average. There is chardonnay hovering around 21 and zinfandel around 22. We have a little time for some fruit thinning in the cabernet.”

Spring Mountain District – Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone Winery – “With last week’s continued moderate weather there was only scattered harvesting. Stony Hill finished their gewürztraminer and Smith-Madrone finished both their chardonnay and riesling. Both wineries found beautiful fruit, great flavors and fabulous chemistry along with higher tonnages than in 2015, yet still not up to an average crop year. This week’s pace will definitely pick up with Keenan getting after their chardonnay, Stony Hill likely finishing their chardonnay, and Spring Mountain Winery going hard for both their chardonnay and pinot noir. Schweiger may start by the end of this week.”

St. Helena – Cathy Corison, Corison Winery — “Yields are running low but quality is very exciting this year. The weather has been perfect since the beginning of the ripening season, with mild days and chilly nights. It’s the calm before the storm at Corison, but we’ve begun to pick our earliest blocks of cabernet, which grow on extremely gravelly sites. Getting excited.”

Rutherford – Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyard & Winery – “Labor Day is rarely a holiday for those of us crushing early season varietals like sauvignon blanc. All the fruit coming in early in the past week left us with two-thirds of our sauvignon blanc in. Cool weather finishing out the week had harvest uncharacteristically slowing to a crawl with no fruit coming in over the last three days. There has been plenty of work to keep us busy over the three day ‘weekend,’ with all of the fermenting tanks to monitor, settled juices to rack and inoculate, and checking on the remaining white vineyard blocks and early monitoring the red vineyard blocks. The forecasted warmer weather for the upcoming week should allow for an uptick in the pace and get us ever closer to the elusive harvest milestone of ‘All of the whites are in.’ Meanwhile, this week has started with the winemaking team cooking up a traditional Labor Day BBQ lunch for the cellar crew. Delicious!”

Oakville — Linda Neal, Tierra Roja Vineyard — “Roving day and night to bring you harvest news I found most of the action in the rich river soils that are home to Oakville’s aromatic whites. Catching Groth’s Assistant Winemaker Eric Fidel in the lab, he gave a hint to the great vintage in the making, describing stunning flavors and balanced acidity with ‘ripeness at lower sugars. Hopefully the trend will continue.’ Alan Pierson, O’Shaughnessy’s Director of Viticulture, says his crew no longer wants to pick during the day. ‘Night harvest is a wonderful thing, great for the guys and the fruit,’ he says as he moves the tractor for the sauv blanc harvest. Later in the week, picking chardonnay, driver Ramon Lopez echoes his boss: ‘Picking cold is one of the best things we can do for the grapes.’ Saddleback, Teaderman, Swanson, Groth, Far Niente and Ehrlich all reported harvesting sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and even a little semillon. It seems Rodeno can lay claim to picking the first Oakville red, with sangiovese for Rosato. Non-harvest activities continue. On Walnut Drive, I found a big crew at Detert, training young vines. Juan Martinez of Opus One had a crew managing vines needing renewal.”

Yountville – Bill Nancarrow, Goosecross Cellars — “Word from the Yountville coffee spots (Bouchon Bakery, Kelly’s, Yountville Deli, and The Caboose) is that harvest activities have been steady this last week. Some merlot has been picked from eastern locations. This week’s anticipated increase in temperatures has everyone readying for more activity as the red grapes reach maturity. Berry sizes this year look to be larger than average.”

Atlas Peak – Melissa Apter, Antica Napa Valley-Antinori Family Wine Estate — “With the weather staying warm over the next few days, the picking schedule is filling up for the week. Chardonnay will be coming in along with the first few picks of pinot noir. Our neighbors at Stagecoach Vineyards started their season with a bit of tempranillo and sauvignon blanc last week. Overall the slow and steady theme of 2016 continues as we wait patiently for the rest to catch up.”

Stags Leap District – Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock Winery – “I checked in with my friends in Stags Leap District and our waiting game continues! Jeff Owens, winemaker at Odette Estate, said, ‘Nothing for us yet! Most likely, two to three weeks if the weather continues to hold.’ At Shafer Vineyards, winemaker Elias Fernandez seemed hopeful that ‘merlot will explode with some heat, but in the meantime just loving the weather for more hang time.’ Michael Beaulac, at Pine Ridge says, ‘I’ve got nothing!’ but hoped for some young malbec by Sept. 9. At Chimney Rock, we’ll spend our next week babysitting our Rutherford sauvignon blanc and sauvignon gris fermentations and watching our SLD red grapes very, very closely. We continue to celebrate the perfect weather.”

Mount Veeder – Sander Scheer, Hess Collection – “We have started picking in the whites — but we’ve only just begun. The chardonnay musque we farm up here is now showing great aromatics and flavors. These blocks will keep us busy for the next week or so. The next few days will also mark the start of checking in on fruit maturity in our earlier reds. We accomplish this initially with Brix readings via a refractometer which then allows us to build a sampling schedule for our lab, and ultimately a game plan for tasting in the vineyard to decide when to pick. With warmer temps in the forecast, things are sure to begin to get interesting.”

Oak Knoll District – Jon Ruel, Trefethen Vineyards & Winery – “We are actively picking chardonnay and riesling with great chemistry and great flavors. As others have said, August seemed cool and the grapes slowed down a bit after their early start. Our degree-day data confirm that it was one of the coolest Augusts in our 48-year history, certainly nothing close in the past 10 years. With high pressure on the horizon, I’m guessing the same will not be true for September.”

Coombsville — Tom Farella, Farella Vineyard — “It’s remained cool and pleasant with sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir being harvested. The forecast will make for an interesting week with temps in the 90s in Coombsville by midweek so merlot won’t be far behind.”

Carneros – Chris Hyde, Hyde Vineyards — “As August comes to a close, weather has cooled down in Carneros, delaying harvest in some vineyards. As temperatures start to warm up, harvest is expected to get into full swing over the course of the next week. This warming trend is a relief to growers in Los Carneros, as the marine cooling trend was cause for concern with delayed harvest and potential for rot. Warmer weather in the week ahead will be a major relief to wineries and growers.”

Wild Horse Valley – John Newmeyer, Heron Lake Vineyard – “Picking of pinot noir and chardonnay took place over the Labor Day weekend. Sugar levels were 23 for the PN and 22 for the chard, with nice acid balance. A minor portion of both varietals remains to be picked. Crop sizes are light this year.”

For real-time harvest photos and updates, visit the Napa Valley Vintners’ Harvest 2016 website at napavintners.com/harvest.

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St. Helena Reporter

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