As the 2019 harvest nears its end, growers’ satisfaction with the quality of their grapes was tempered by their concern for Sonoma County residents facing a catastrophic wildfire that’s also threatening the northern end of Napa County.
“The jubilance that we normally feel when all the grapes are at long last in and we can begin to relax has been harshly tempered by the devastation of the Sonoma fires,” said Kristin Belair of Honig Vineyard & Winery. “Our hearts go out to all who have been affected. The strength of our communities and countless acts of kindness and compassion ultimately define our pathway forward.”
Jennifer Rue of Oakville Ranch Vineyards noted “neighbors helping neighbors, crushing fruit for wineries without power, loaning equipment, co-workers offering shelter, and vineyard and winery teams putting in overtime to get the job done.”
Here’s the last harvest report of the year, organized by American Viticultural Area (AVA):
Calistoga — Matt Crafton, Chateau Montelena — “A quick transition from winemaking to fire protection as a too familiar foe once again emerged this week. After months of relentlessly focusing on vines, fruit, and fermenters, we’re now back to what’s really important: our people and livelihoods. A big thank you from all us in Calistoga to our emergency personnel.”
Howell Mountain — Laura Barrett, Clif Family Winery — “The 2019 growing season has come to an end for Clif Family Winery. With high wind and fire danger on our minds this week, we are thankful to have all of our grapes safe and sound in the winery, with most fermentations near completion. Tanks are being drained and pressed, wines headed to barrel and secondary fermentations initiated. Many of my fellow Howell Mountain producers are just finishing up with the last of their Cabernet and I expect most to wrap up harvest by the end of the week. Despite this week’s weather, it’s been an exceptional growing season, with a consistently warm summer, the absence of any major heat events, very little September/October rain, and ample hang time. The Howell Mountain Cabernets are superb, with great color and structure.”
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Diamond Mountain District — Dawnine Dyer, Dyer Vineyards — “Another week for the history books with PG&E out on Diamond Mountain, effectively since Wednesday, Oct. 23. Our deepest sympathy for our Sonoma neighbors for their losses and exile from their homes as we watch this latest round of fires play out. We are optimistic that power will be restored by the time of this printing, but back up generators are becoming the norm in wineries and work continues without compromise. The majority of our vineyards have been picked, the Vineyardist and Summit Vine Ranch finished last week with extremely dry weather concentrating flavors. There are a few vineyards with fruit still out. J Davies and Sterling both reporting that they will be picking into November. These are high altitude vineyards and in both cases smoke has not been an issue. It’s been a good vintage. Longer than most and less predictable than some but the results are impressive.”
Rutherford — Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyard & Winery — “We were all so deep into harvest that I missed writing last week’s report and remembered late, last Tuesday afternoon. This week’s report is much different than I expected. The jubilance that we normally feel when all the grapes are at long last in and we can begin to relax has been harshly tempered by the devastation of the Sonoma fires. Our hearts go out to all who have been affected. The strength of our communities and countless acts of kindness and compassion ultimately define our pathway forward. We continue making wine, wrapping up the harvest, getting red fermentations finished, pressed out and down to barrel all the while looking for ways to celebrate what promises to be an amazing vintage.”
Oakville — Jennifer Rue, Oakville Ranch Vineyards — “In like a lamb, out like a lion. As low humidity and Diablo winds had the region on tenterhooks it was a busy week at mid-valley wineries. The pace finally reached a more typical harvest speed. In other, less forgiving vintages, evacuations and power outages might have harmed wine quality. But the soft, supple tannins of the 2019 vintage are resulting in wines benefiting from a longer than usual time on skins and a broader window for pressing without detriment to wine quality. As the new red wines are drained and pressed and whites move to dryness, we’re seeing vibrant and expressive wines, loaded with fresh fruit character. The 2019 vintage has a clear point of view, presenting as both vibrant and impactful while being hedonic with a beautiful silky mouthfeel. However, the story of a vintage is not limited to wine descriptors and weather. The show cannot go on without many unseen people. This past week, amid the chaos and tension of the Kincade Fire, the real story is neighbors helping neighbors, crushing fruit for wineries without power, loaning equipment, co-workers offering shelter and vineyard and winery teams putting in overtime to get the job done.”
Stags Leap District — Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock Winery — “We had yet another memorable and challenging week in the valley with power outages and red flag warnings. Our hearts are with our Sonoma neighbors, as we know all too well what a harrowing experience these fires can be. Michael Baldacci, director of operations at Baldacci Family Vineyards, reports they finished their harvest late last week. He was excited about the ‘wonderful flavors in the winery so far, and yields were slightly over our predictions which is always nice.’ He found the pace of harvest to be much like last year ‘slow and steady.’ Marcus Notaro, winemaker at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, picked his last fruit this past Monday. He reports ‘lower yields, soft tannins, expressive flavors and nice long hang time.’ At Chimney Rock, we also hit our finish line and we couldn’t be more pleased with the hard work our team put in through losing power at home and showing extra dedication. Color and aromatics are starting to show beautifully in our fermenters and we are excited to watch this vintage develop in barrel.”
Mount Veeder – Lorenzo Dalla Brea, Hess Collection — “Last week’s hot temperatures and dry winds further promoted the ripening of our Mount Veeder fruit. Harvest is slowly progressing as we are taking advantage of the great weather to maximize hangtime and flavor expression in the grapes. Varietal flavor profiles are fully developed, and the quality of the fruit this year is looking superb. As of the end of last week, we are just halfway through the 2019 harvest. Pick of red fruit this week will be in full swing on Mount Veeder. Vineyard crews are scheduled to pick Malbec in our Veeder Summit vineyards, and Cabernet Sauvignon from our estate Mont La Salle vineyards. Also, some of our best Cabernet Sauvignon from the Veeder Hills property is on the schedule for pick mid-week.”
Oak Knoll District — Jon Ruel, Trefethen Vineyards — “All of our grapes are in! We are very grateful for the quality and quantity of this vintage. We are also grateful for our fantastic maintenance team and our new generator, which have literally kept the lights on. The active fermentations in the cellar are getting the attention they need and we are hosting guests in the tasting room. Our hearts go out to those impacted by the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County and we hope that it is contained soon.”