Chardonnay wrap up at sunrise

The vineyard crew at Trefethen Family Vineyards has been starting each day at 2 a.m. as the cooler temperatures are easier to work in and make for fresher grapes. Here the team completes picking a block of chardonnay grapes just after sunrise.

The recent heat wave has damaged some of the grapes throughout the Napa Valley, with smaller berries and lighter yields than normal. But, with the return of normal temperatures, particularly at night, the brix levels are retreating and growers are letting their berries stay on the vines. All of the white grapes have been picked and crews are getting ready to harvest the red wine grapes, although cabernet sauvignon seems to be a ways off.

The AVA reports, from north to south, are as follows:

Calistoga – Matthew Crafton, Chateau Montelena Winery, “Beautiful autumn weather this week and the vines loved every minute as much as we did. In the cellar, we were able to catch up a bit as we transitioned from the last of the chardonnay and into zinfandel and our hillside cabernet blocks. In general, our cabernet berries are tiny — like skin stretched around a seed, kind of small. Flavors are intense but I don’t anticipate yields at the press to be high. Around the AVA, picking has been steady with a big push Friday night ahead of the warm weather we’ve experienced this weekend. I anticipate the pace to increase this coming week.”

Diamond Mountain District – Dawnine Dyer, Dyer Vineyards, “Still recovering from the most recent heat event, the first Bordeaux varieties are coming off Diamond Mountain this week — some merlot and fruit from young or stressed vineyards where canopies are particularly fragile. In these vineyards yields are low, colors are particularly intense, and tannins are ripe. The majority of the cab on the Mountain is still weeks away. By midweek the vines will have rebounded from the heat, winemakers will be taking extensive samples and we’ll have a better picture.”

Chiles Valley District – Alexander Eisele, Volker Eisele Family Estate, “Back to optimal ripening conditions, day time temperatures in the low to mid 80s and around 60 degrees at night. Some vineyards report being ahead of schedule while others are slightly behind the past three years. A little shriveling can be seen in the reds, though overall very little negative impact from the tremendous heat wave we experienced. The whites have been harvested and now the focus is on zinfandel and the first merlot.”

Spring Mountain District – Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone, “Activity on Spring Mt. has slowed down. The last of the whites are being crushed now and many of us are trying a few loads of reds. With the cool weather forecast for this week most of us are anticipating next week as the real beginning of the red wine harvest. Personally, the heat spike hurt us quite badly in several blocks, but we seem to be the exception, which is good for the mountain.”

St. Helena – Eric Risch, Pellet Estate, “The recent heat wave really popped the sugars around St. Helena, and the cool days that followed have helped bring back hydration and ripening. Most of the sauvignon blanc is in, and picks of chardonnay, merlot and zinfandel are in full swing now. The week of Sept. 11 will probably see the start of cabernet coming in after yet another weekend heat bump. With moderate mid-80 degree temps forecast going forward, and evening cooling into the 50s, the cabernet conditions look ideal.”

Rutherford – Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyard & Winery, “Whew! What a week! The record heat finally subsided and cooler nights are oh so welcome. The pace of harvest has remained at a sprint, bringing in sauvignon blanc at full capacity each day. Fermentations are progressing nicely and our first tanks are going dry and the wines are showing themselves to be quite lovely with lots of bright, fresh characters. We are still a little ways off from any Rutherford appellation cabernet arriving crossing the crush pad, but expect to see some St. Helena cabernet sauvignon here later in the week, after wrapping up the sauvignon blanc on Wednesday.”

Oakville – Linda Neal, Tierra Roja Vineyard, “Harvest continues at a strong pace in Oakville, with the first cabernet sauvignon likely coming from HH Ranch on Sept. 6. Ever wonder about those strips of shade cloth? Russell Bevan reported on Sept. 4, “This past week’s heat was tough on the vineyards … The blocks that have shade cloth did much better, the fruit zone remained almost 12 degrees cooler than the blocks that weren’t protected.”

Ren and Marilyn Harris were hosts to the Oakville Winegrowers Association Annual Summer Social. The setting in their garden was stunning, tables set in autumnal glory, the weather perfect and maybe one of the best dinners I’ve ever enjoyed, from perfectly cooked beef to garden tomatoes. As most of the vintners and winemakers from Oakville were in attendance, and each brought their best bottle to share, you can imagine the wines were a treat. Yet Ren gave us all another “wow” moment when he shared a 1995 three-liter of Screaming Eagle. The thing I love most about these gatherings is to see the founders, their children and newcomers alike, blended to share our mutual blessings to be part of this beautiful valley.”

Yountville – Anthony Bell, Bell Wine Cellars, “A cooler week, with scattered showers and the return of the bay’s morning fog allowed vines to recover from the intense heat wave the weekend prior, while also increasing risk of fungal infection in some more susceptible varietals. We received the last of our out-of-county syrah production, which now is underway in its fermentation, with a few lots nearing completion of primary already. Heat spiked again over the weekend, with temperatures in the upper 90s. Starting to call picks on Yountville chardonnay in less than a week to come.”

Atlas Peak – Gabrielle Shaffer, Stagecoach Vineyard, “We’re happy to have made it through the recent heatwave fairly unscathed. The only quantifiable loss we had was in some petit verdot blocks. The weather seems to have evened out and the harvest schedule is building daily. We picked our first cabernet sauvignon on Monday and it came in slightly heavier than estimated. We’ve seen brix that spiked after the heat coming down a bit. Our sauvignon blanc and most of our chardonnay are all in now and as the reds start to get scheduled we’re ramping up for the busy season ahead.”

Stags Leap District – Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock Winery, “Respite from the heat this week provided a nice opportunity for our vines to breathe and ripen at a normal pace. Jon Emmerich, winemaker at Silverado Vineyards, reports that they have finished harvesting their SLD merlot and predicted that SLD cabernet sauvignon would be making its first appearance at their crush pad. Michael Beaulac at Pine Ridge has harvested some of his hillside estate cabernet, some young malbec and promises a busy week to come. At Cliff Lede Vineyards, Remi Cohen reports that “our Stags Leap District estate merlot was harvested last week and the fermentations are just beginning.” At Chimney Rock we harvested some hillside merlot and some young vine petit verdot. This week we will be finishing up our SLD merlot blocks and anxiously awaiting the weekend when we could bring in our first cabernet sauvignon — what a joy that will be.

Mount Veeder – Sander Scheer, The Hess Collection, “At this point the chardonnay is all picked here on the mountain. It picked lighter than last year but quality is fantastic. Cooler temperatures since the warm weather over the Labor Day holiday has been a nice sigh of relief for our vineyards. Having the irrigation to help vines sitting on rocky soils makes all the difference during these heat events. We’ve started sampling/tasting in the malbec, syrah and are also optimistic about what’s to come. Cabernet is probably two to three weeks away as we wait for flavors to develop. Lots of activity in the cellar now as the first lots go through fermentation.”

Oak Knoll District – Jon Ruel, Trefethen Family Vineyards, “The past week has been quite busy around the Oak Knoll District. At Trefethen, we have wrapped up the chardonnay and riesling and picked our first merlot and cabernet franc. Jim Verhey reports that his sauvignon blanc came in with “very good” quality but yields lighter than last year. Over at Robert Biale Vineyards, winemaker Tres Goetting has been bringing in zinfandel from the OKD and around the valley. The Biale team says their crop handled the heat well and they are seeing some “intense flavors.”

Coombsville – Tom Farella, Farella Vineyard, “The wild weather changes continue and the harvest that was tracking slightly later than normal has shifted to slightly early. We are picking merlot today, normally a block that comes in late September. The big heat wave left its mark and berry weights are down as the vines chug along through the crazy weather. All the whites are off in our neighborhood and this week seems to be perfect for the merlot harvest with cabernet probably starting to come in next week.

Carneros – Christopher Hyde, Hyde Vineyards, “In Carneros most are wrapping up chardonnay and pinot noir harvest later this week, and at Hyde Vineyard, we are starting up the late season harvest with merlot tonight. Pinot noir had around average yields this year, and chardonnay ranged from a little below average to surprisingly low yield this year, mostly due to there being lots of small berries and their desiccation with the heat spell we had. There were instances where fruit that was almost ready for harvest seemed to have been shocked by the heat and the ripening was set back. Looking forward to what looks like promising yields in the late season red varieties (merlot, cab & syrah).

Wild Horse Valley – John Newmeyer, Heron Lake Vineyard, “Most of the pinot noir and much of the chardonnay has already been picked — we may wrap up as soon as this weekend. There’s been some desiccation, but general all we picked was 24 Brix or less. Our 1,200-feet elevation has spared us the worst of the heat damage.”

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

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