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Harvest Report: Heat wave boosts sugar levels

Harvest Report: Heat wave boosts sugar levels

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Harvest report

Hot weather accelerated grape ripening this week. Mark Skinner photo

After a long period of cool weather with growers playing the waiting game, hot temperatures boosted sugar levels and prompted a flurry of action in many appellations.

Echoing other growers, Pat Stotesbery of Ladera Vineyards reports, “With the recent and seemingly continuing hot weather, things have moved in a hurry and many people will start picking reds this week.”

Here’s the latest installment of the 2012 harvest report, organized by American Viticultural Areas:

Calistoga — Paul Smith, Vermeil Wines at OnThEdge Winery: “Subjective flavors have caught up with objective numbers ramping harvest up nicely with zinfandel, petite sirah, cabernet franc and even cabernet sauvignon in fermenters. Yields are block-variable (over here, under there) near-‘normal’ to slightly up overall. Is the uniform high quality Mother Nature’s apology for her spotty V-11 performance?”

Chiles Valley District — Volker Eisele, Eisele Vineyards: “The real harvest has started. A lot of zinfandel, syrah, petite sirah and young cabernet sauvignon has been picked with excellent results. Color is deep. Sugars are around 25 and acidities are holding up because of the cool nights. This past night from Sunday to Monday was the first one to reach 50 degrees. The last two weeks saw temperatures between 39 and 47 degrees every night. Yesterday, the hot Sunday, the high was only 92 degrees, not enough to do any damage. The vines are holding up well so the bulk of the cabernet harvest looks very promising.”

Howell Mountain — Pat Stotesbery, Ladera Vineyards: “Let the red fruit games begin. With the recent and seemingly continuing hot weather, things have moved in a hurry and many people will start picking reds this week. Early ripeners like malbec will be coming off this week with some blocks of cab here and there. But it will be in full swing very shortly with the sugars now at higher levels.”

Spring Mountain District — Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone Winery: “Barbara Richards of Paloma believes this may be the ‘best merlot crop in years’ — a common sentiment on the mountain. Also, the mountain is experiencing a small cabernet sauvignon crop with small clusters, small berries and intense color and flavors. After these two facts, the mountain is out of sync. Some wineries have finished, others haven’t started, some are harvesting cabernet before merlot while others are harvesting merlot before cabernet. Go figure!”

St. Helena — Bob Egelhoff, owner, Egelhoff Wines: “The excellent weather continues for the 2012 harvest. Almost all the whites and a few reds are in the barn with excellent numbers. White grape varieties and pinot are up 20-40 percent. The 10-day forecast is positive, allowing the Bordeaux varieties the opportunity to gain maturity and allow wineries to get whites down to barrels. Mother Nature is working overtime creating a win-win harvest for both growers and wineries. Let ’em hang.”

Rutherford — Brian Brown, winemaker, Round Pond Estate: “With a gorgeous white fruit season packaged up nice and tidy last week, we look forward to the first reds in the next day or two. Malbec and merlot are on the schedule, as are some of our early cab blocks. Flavor development is ahead of sugar accumulation in Rutherford. From what I taste, the skins are thicker this year so tannin management will be important as soon as fruit arrives on the crush pad till the end of maceration.”

Yountville — Molly Hodgins, viticulturist, Komes and Garvey Ranches/Flora Springs: “By now we have finished picking chardonnay and merlot in Oakville. The late heat spell has given ripening a boost and nearly all varieties have reached or are about to reach ‘sugar ripeness.’ Now we wait for the desired flavors to develop in our cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and other later-ripening reds. Some blocks have fully developed and are waiting for their turn on our picking schedule, while riper fruit Upvalley gets picked first.”

Stags Leap District — Elizabeth Vianna, winemaker, Chimney Rock Winery: “Remi Cohen at Cliff Lede Vineyards expects a busy week ahead. The grapes held up well with the heat, but maturity has advanced quickly. They have finished harvesting merlot and will get into SLD cabernet this week. Sandy Taylor of Taylor Family Vineyards reports some of their SLD from the higher terraces will be coming in this week. They are excited by the ‘beautiful growing season thus far, great flavor profiles and nice acid.’ At Chimney Rock, we have the sense of getting to the first peak of a roller coaster; the ride is about to take off. Merlot and petit verdot will be harvested and the first sighting of the wondrous SLD cabernet on our crush-pad.”

Atlas Peak — Jan Krupp, Stagecoach Vineyards: “Harvest on Atlas Peak is accelerating with merlot in full swing, the whites finishing up, and cabernet about to begin. Quality so far has been excellent with no shortage of fruit.”

Mount Veeder — Brian Nuss, Vinoce Vineyards/Twenty Rows: “Close to 100 degrees on Monday. Vines are getting watered. Robert Craig’s guys were expected to be up on Tuesday to taste some grapes. Weather was supposed to get back to normal midweek. I think we will start picking at the beginning of next week.”

Oak Knoll District — Jon Ruel, Trefethen Vineyards & Winery: “We had an amazing 60-degree swing last Sunday — 41 F in the morning and getting up to 101 F in the afternoon. The grapes handled the heat just fine and we are continuing to harvest at a steady pace. This week we brought in our first of the Bordeaux varieties, including some malbec and cabernet franc. The quality continues to look fantastic across the board!”

Carneros — Lee Hudson, Hudson Vineyards: “It’s hard to imagine better ripening conditions. This past week we picked a lot of beautiful chardonnay with perfect flavors and balance. With this little bit of finishing heat this coming week, Carneros should be 80 percent through 2012 chardonnay. The merlot is coming in and what we are seeing in the winery gives this grown man goosebumps.”

Wild Horse Valley — John Newmeyer, Heron Lake Vineyard: “The chardonnay is ripening unevenly, so we’ve been picking 2 tons at a time. We’ve brought in 6 tons thus far. The hot weekend hastened ripening, so we were expecting to pick the remaining 6 tons early Tuesday. The fruit has been somewhat short of our ideal 24 Brix, but definitely has ripe fruit flavors.”

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