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Napa Valley harvest report: A busy week in the vineyards
Napa Valley harvest report

Napa Valley harvest report: A busy week in the vineyards

From the Napa Valley Wine Insider Digest: Sept. 11, 2021 series
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Harvest at Clif Family

A vineyard worker harvests Zinfandel from the Clif Family Home Farm on the north side of Howell Mountain.

Napa Valley growers spent the last week harvesting high-quality, low-yield white varietals, and some are already bringing in reds.

Honig Vineyard & Winery has finished with Sauvignon Blanc and harvested some young Malbec, producing the "unusual scenario" of whites and reds overlapping, according to Kristin Belair.

There are even reports of Cabernet Sauvignon hitting crush pads already.

"After last year, it is SO GOOD to have red grapes in the winery," writes Matt Crafton of Chateau Montelena, throwing in some all-caps for emphasis.

Here’s this week's harvest report, organized by American Viticultural Area (AVA):

Calistoga

Matt Crafton, Chateau Montelena — “An action-packed week in Calistoga as the red grape harvest has begun. Yields are down as expected with many growers reporting picks that are 25-40% below average. It feels a lot like 2015 with a lighter crop and drought conditions pushing ripeness forward; but those wines were a huge hit. In general, sugar levels appear to be slightly ahead of flavors, although acidity is still quite prominent especially at elevation. The good news is that, despite the water stress, leaf canopies continue to hold up as maturation accelerates with the mid-90s temperatures this week. After last year, it is SO GOOD to have red grapes in the winery.”

Diamond Mountain District

Dawnine Dyer, Dyer Vineyard — "The Hyde clone Chardonnay at Constant Diamond Mountain came in on Sept. 1. Top grafted just two years ago, it’s not an accurate look at yields, but Kevin reports that the fruit was textbook gorgeous. Those of us anticipating an early harvest are starting to watch acids and pH as we get closer and are seeing pHs on the low side of normal for the current sugars — a sure sign of the role dehydration plays in a drought year. The heat that returned over the Labor Day weekend is starting to take its toll on water-stressed vineyards and we are watching young vines and weaker sections closely. With low yields and limited water there’s likely to be some harvest activity in reds soon."

Howell Mountain

Laura Barrett, Clif Family Winery — "Harvest has definitely picked up speed this week in the Howell Mountain AVA. There are reports of a broad range of varietals coming in, from Sauvignon Blanc to Syrah, Zinfandel and even Cabernet Sauvignon. Growers across the AVA are pleased with the look of the vintage thus far, with consistent reports of slightly lower yields. Ron Haber of Haber Vineyards said his cluster counts are lower than average, but his vines are handling the drought and have healthy canopies. Angelina Mondavi, Co-Proprietor and Winemaker for Aloft Wine, said 'The flavors are ahead of schedule, but better yet the sugar levels are also trending 2-3 weeks earlier due to the drought we are experiencing.' For Angelina, and many other Howell Mountain growers, it’s now a patience game."

Chiles Valley District

Alexander Eisele, Volker Eisele Family Estate — "Above average temperatures have kept things moving along at a fairly rapid pace. Higher elevation vineyards at 1,800 and 1,400 feet have been harvesting Zinfandel and Petite Sirah with reports of much lower yields but beautiful fruit quality. Lower elevation vineyards have been picking Chardonnay with the same results: clean fruit, just lower yields. A few more gallons of water on the Cabernet vines that still have a number of weeks to go. Lets hope that the heat waves are behind us."

Spring Mountain District

Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone Winery — "Keenan, Schweiger, Spring Mountain Vineyard and Smith-Madrone all finished their Chardonnay last week and the fruit was a stunningly beautiful green color with good maturity and excellent chemistry. There’s been a scattering of reds harvested with Schweiger having harvested small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec. Both Keenan and Schweiger expect to pick large amounts of their Cabernet this week, while most other wineries are holding back for a little more maturity. The vines are holding up very well, but we’re starting to see some yellowing of the basal leaves. Harvest on the Mountain seems to be progressing very nicely so far."

Rutherford

Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyard & Winery — "This past week has been full capacity, all hands-on deck, here at Honig. We finished out the Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc and harvested some young Malbec on Sept. 4. In an unusual scenario, reds have overlapped the whites by over a week! With grapes ripening at lightning speed, the ongoing chess game of where to house all the incoming fruit becomes even more complex. The quality of the incoming fruit and resulting wines so far is quite impressive! Reports from around the neighborhood: Molly Hill at Sequoia Grove reports that 'Currently, we are waiting with bated breath for the start of the red grape harvest. If we get lucky, quality for 2021 looks to be epic!' Marissa Taylor at Rutherford Hill says that they picked Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc last week and were bringing in Merlot from Pope Valley. From Chris Phelps at Inglenook: 'The tempo of harvest has picked up at Inglenook, with 100% of Syrah and Zinfandel coming in this week, as well as solid lots of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. With all red Bordeaux varieties at 23.5 Brix or above, the 3 weeks will be interesting! Low yield and great quality!'

Oakville

Jennifer Rue, Oakville Ranch Vineyards — "Last Thursday, Oakville Ranch kicked off Harvest 2021 with our 1.2-acre block of Chardonnay pick coming in just 10% below our five-year average. Ben Forgeron at Groth and Lars Bjorkman at Saddleback reported picking their last Oakville whites, and a chat with Paradigm’s Mark Fasi revealed their Merlot for Rosé is in as well. By all accounts, it was a busy week fitting in the last press loads before the Labor Day heat. The break between whites and reds is looking quite compressed. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear of Syrah and Merlot coming in by the weekend. So far, summer 2021 has avoided the extreme heat of recent vintages, resulting in a steady pace of color, flavor, and tannin development. Classically cool Napa nights are maintaining acid and freshness even as Brix increase. Across Oakville, Bordeaux varietals are tracking tightly and progressing quickly. The wait won't be long."

Yountville

Louis Kapcsandy Jr., Kapcsandy Family Winery — "Nearly all of the whites are in, with the exception of some later Chardonnays that are primarily SE exposure. Overnight lows are dipping into the low 40s, keeping the acids from shifting quickly, which is a delight as the grape phenolics in the reds are building albeit slowly. Now that afternoon temps across the valley have moderated into the high 80s-low 90s range, the Cabernets are valiantly marching toward the finish line. At Kapcsandy, we’ll be picking our heritage dry-white Furmint on Thursday, very close to 22 Brix and a pH of 3.3. This varietal, grown far and wide throughout my father’s home country of Hungary, is astonishingly adaptive to our region. Clusters are large and the rachis (main stem axis) is a bit fragile, yet it ripens in mid-September every year and maintains a balance and proper richness without malolactic fermentation. We ferment the wine in stainless-steel, stir the lees for 5 months, cold stabilize, filter and bottle in late-winter."

Atlas Peak

Joel Antonio, Alpha Omega – Cordes Vineyard — "With the harvesting of fruit for our Rosé Reserve behind us, on Monday, Labor Day, we started picking our reds, beginning with Malbec at Cordes Vineyard, where veraison began on July 20. The temperature was very warm when we were harvesting at night. We were expecting it to cool down to the 50s, but the temperature didn’t drop below 65 degrees. By 7 a.m. it was 70 degrees, and by 8 a.m. it was already 80 degrees. Throughout the valley there is vine stress due to the warm, dry weather and drought. Vines are at their maximum stress level, especially on Atlas Peak because it’s a rocky AVA and very shallow. There’s not a lot of water or nutrients available. Plants are still ripening, and the sugar and color are increasing. The color is so intense and there is so much flavor.”

Stags Leap District

Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock Winery — "It will be a working Labor Day for many winemakers and their teams in Stags Leap District. Elias Fernandez, winemaker at Shafer, begins his harvest on Labor Day with some Merlot and Chardonnay hitting the crush pad. He predicts Cabernet Sauvignon could be as early as mid-week. Marcus Notaro, winemaker at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, was loving the flavors in his Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. He is expecting maybe a week to 10 days before some of the early Cabernet Sauvignon blocks from upper Fay and SLV are ready. At Chimney Rock, our Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris are in and fermenting away, while Merlot is in sight perhaps by the end of Labor Day week or the following week. Like Marcus, our early Cabernets are probably about 10 days away. I think we can all agree, it is an early delivery for the 2021 vintage!"

Mount Veeder

Lorenzo Dalla Brea, Hess Collection — "We continue seeing ideal ripening conditions for our last block of Chardonnay — to be picked this week. We’ll keep monitoring sugar accumulation for the other varieties, which are ripening at a greater pace than seen in the prior several years. On Cabernet blocks with the highest sun exposure, our Brix level is already past 26, setting us up for what may be a record early harvest for reds."

Oak Knoll District

Jon Ruel, Trefethen Vineyards & Winery — "Scott Meadows at Silenus Winery said, 'The cool summer led to elegant flavored and balanced Chardonnay," which they started picking last week. Clif Family Winery is bringing in 'delicious' Merlot this week from their new OKD vineyard. That's the first red Bordeaux variety I've heard about but I'm guessing Steve Mathiasson is already picking reds too. Here at Trefethen, we are approximately 75% done with Chardonnay and delighted with the juice so far. We have already picked all of our Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. It feels great to have so much in the cellar already!"

Coombsville

Tom Farella, Farella Vineyard — "The weather remains favorable and skies are relatively clear as we move into the heart of harvest. White grapes remain the focus as Sauvignon Blanc is all harvested here at Farella and Chardonnay is poised for a big week at neighboring vineyards. We have been very lucky to have clean air while other regions in the state are adversely affected by smoke. Napa Valley’s proximity to the Bay comes through, once again, and we hope the pattern holds for the weeks — and months — to come as red varieties ripen up."

Carneros

Christopher Hyde, Hyde Vineyards — "Hot weather has brought harvest in Carneros into full swing, with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir harvested each night here at Hyde Vineyards. Within the next week harvest will be half-way through, with small yields across the board, and late season varieties approaching ripeness."

For real-time harvest photos and updates, visit the Napa Valley Vintners’ Harvest 2021 website at harvestnapa.com.

Napa County’s wine industry crushed just under 100,000 tons of grapes in 2020, according to a preliminary crush report from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, marking an almost 40% decline year over year.

 

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