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Harvest

After harvest, fall colors have begun to show in this vineyard along Silverado Trail south of Calistoga.

Now in its last phase, the 2018 harvest is drawing high marks from growers who report an outstanding crop with high yields and great quality.

“The wines are gorgeous, with dense color, focused fruit and a striking tannin/acid balance,” said Kristin Belair of Honig Vineyard & Winery. “Cooler seasons like this one often try our patience, but this year has proved to be well worth the wait.”

On Atlas Peak, which was hit hard by last year’s wildfires, it’s been a “Phoenix-like vintage,” said Gordon Waggoner of Acumen Wines.

“Yields continue to be up almost 20 percent on average, and the quality is excellent,” Waggoner said. “Near-ideal ripening conditions persist, with the luxury of being able to wait for the ideal moment to pick, and for tank space to clear.”

Here’s this week’s harvest report, the last one of the season, organized by American Viticultural Area (AVA):

Calistoga — Matt Crafton, Chateau Montelena — “Most of us Upvalley can see the light at the end of the tunnel as the final push is underway. I still can’t get over how beautiful the weather is and how ideal it’s been as we drive further into October. Activity across the AVA was non-stop this week especially on the valley floor to the south of us as a large portion of the higher-bearing acreage was harvested. Lots of sunlight along with mild daytime temperatures on deck should slowly coax the remaining fruit along. I estimate we’ve picked 95 percent of our tonnage and plenty of our neighbors are already finished. We certainly have a lot to be excited about and to be thankful for.”

Howell Mountain — Laura Barrett, Clif Family Winery — “There are many of us on Howell Mountain who are wrapping things up this week. I picked the last of the Clif Family Cold Springs Estate on Monday. With the cooler season and bountiful crop, it was the October warmth that pushed this block over the top with respect to quality. We needed the last few weeks of heat and Mother Nature delivered, resulting in exceptional flavors, mature seeds and skins, moderate brix and good acids. Mike Lamborn of Lamborn Family Vineyards also has the last of his fruit in the barn. His focus has now shifted to ‘doing an aggressive post-harvest irrigation, and soon we’ll embark upon our fall/winter composting project.’ Mike Dunn of Dunn Vineyards still has about 20 percent of his crop hanging. He is seeing higher than usual acids and finding it ‘tougher to taste ripeness with acid levels high.’ Mike is hoping this dry weather pattern continues so he can get another couple of weeks for his Petite Sirah. We could see some November picks on Howell Mountain!”

Diamond Mountain District — Dawnine Dyer, Dyer Vineyards — “Even with the extended warm weather, nighttime low temperatures and shorter days are bringing the 2018 growing season to an end. While a few late vineyards on Diamond Mountain will be picking into November it ‘s not too early to say that it’s been an extraordinary vintage ... late out of the blocks, warm but not hot in July and August and, as the days shortened in September, some of the nicest fall ripening weather we’ve seen in a long time. The crop has been large but not too big ... in effect, everything has been ‘just right.’ Harry Hansen at Sterling is comparing it to 2013 while Rudy von Strasser goes further back to 1997 to find parallels — both epic vintages. Congratulations to all!”

Chiles Valley District — Alexander Eisele, Volker Eisele Family Estate — “A gentle stroll to the finish line. Perfect weather, ideal seed development, great flavors with nice acid retention, everything is looking outstanding. This week should bring most of us to the end of harvest 2018. Higher than average yields with great quality reported throughout the district.”

Spring Mountain District – Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone — “A fabulous harvest on the mountain is coming to an end with most of the wineries finishing last week or early this week. As usual, Spring Mountain Vineyard, York Creek, Pride Mountain Vineyards and Sherwin Family Vineyards will push up to or slightly into November before they start their clean-up for the year. It’s been a dream harvest with perfect weather, small berries, great flavors, a heavy crop and little stress. The vines held up really well this year. David Tate of Barnett Vineyards said it best: ‘It’s been one of the best years we’ve ever had.’”

St. Helena — Lindsey Wallingford, Saint Helena Winery — “Last Friday we picked our last block on the property, so we are all in! We had a two-week picking window this year – predominately Cabernet. With the amazing quality we have been pursuing 5-6 day cold soaks and the juice and wines have gorgeous color early on. Fermentations have been very steady dropping 2-3 brix everyday. We are very excited about the fruit and the wines this year!”

Rutherford — Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyard & Winery — “The fall light on the deep gold and amber leaves of recently harvested vines makes for some of the most picturesque scenes in Napa Valley. The past week made for some long days at Honig, with bringing in Cabernet Sauvignon from several AVAs throughout the valley, including Rutherford. We pressed out more than a few Cabernet lots last week. The wines are gorgeous, with dense color, focused fruit and a striking tannin/acid balance. Cooler seasons like this one often try our patience, but this year has proved to be well worth the wait. We expect to be wrapping up the Cabernet harvest towards the end of next week and will be ‘patiently’ waiting for the botrytis to encase on our Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc before the middle of December.”

Oakville — Jennifer Rue, Oakville Ranch Vineyards — “The buzz of potential rain week energized harvest. As it became clear the system was breaking apart and would just temporarily decrease daytime temperatures, the sense of urgency to pick lessened. This gave us the opportunity to drain and press our earlier arrivals and get wine to barrel in preparation for the next seating. We’re rounding the corner to the home stretch for 2018 much in the same vein as the entire vintage. The broad window of hang time weather has continued the sense of ease and grace to the pace of maturity and harvest. Ferments are going well and flavors and color are off the charts. As the walnuts drop and the last grapes get picked there is much to be grateful for – but still much work to be done.”

Atlas Peak – Gordon Waggoner, Acumen Wines — “Harvest is entering the final phase on Atlas Peak. Reds from warmer sites have been brought in, with cooler locations scheduling their picks over the next few weeks. Yields continue to be up almost 20 percent on average, and the quality is excellent. Near-ideal ripening conditions persist, with the luxury of being able to wait for the ideal moment to pick, and for tank space to clear. Collectively we are all very excited about the results from 2018. It has truly become a Phoenix-like vintage for us on Atlas Peak.”

Stags Leap District — Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock Winery — “It is remarkable that just a week ago some producers in Stags Leap District were just starting to harvest Cabernet Sauvignon and suddenly as we look at the week ahead, most of us will be reaching the finish line or getting close. Remi Cohen at Cliff Lede Vineyards, reports that all the SLD fruit is in tank. Michael Beaulac, winemaker at Pine Ridge Vineyards, reports that all his SLD fruit is in (although he still had lots of other fruit from other AVAs to go). He ‘couldn’t be happier’ with the quality of this great vintage. At Chimney Rock, we are at the moment which we have affectionately nicknamed ‘Cabernet delirium.’ The rhythm of harvest has picked up and although we are still quite a few tons from the finish line we see a light at the end of the tunnel. It was such a sight driving up the Silverado Trail, watching night picks lighting the skies – the symphony of the Stags Leap District Cabernet harvest was at full blast this week.”

Mount Veeder — Lorenzo Dalla Brea, Hess Collection — “Warm days and plenty of sunshine contributed to promote ripeness of our Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, with varietal flavors and tannins now fully developed. Hang time softened the grape skins, with all of the Malbec and early Cabernet Sauvignon blocks progressively making their way into the picking schedule for this week. We are now working long hours to get all the fruit in the winery as harvest is in full swing at our estate ranches on Mount Veeder this week. As we schedule and pick blocks, we keep parcels and areas with different expressions of maturity separate to maintain the flavor specificity of every location we farm. While we still have a good share of the red grape crop out in the field, we anticipate harvest to be completed within two weeks.”

Oak Knoll District — Jon Ruel, Trefethen Vineyards — “What a beautiful finish! Our harvest began over two months ago, in late August, with our first picks of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. As we wrap up over the next few days, we are very grateful for the fine fall weather that continued through September and October. Although the nights have been dipping into the upper 30s, the daytime highs have still reached into the 80s giving our remaining Cabernet and Petit Verdot the perfect final push to ripeness. As the vineyard is about to get quieter, the cellar is still crazy busy with all of our active fermentations. We remain excited about the quality of the vintage and look forward to getting to know these young wines over the weeks and months to come.”

Coombsville — Tom Farella, Farella Vineyards — “Things have been chugging along in Coombsville with Cabernet coming off virtually everywhere, though much of it at night. There are still vineyards with lots of fruit but most is scheduled for harvest very soon, the rest hanging a little longer, eking out the last rays of sunlight as winter approaches. Everyone is a bit tired but, generally, blissed out after a great finish to the long growing season. In the cellar, there is still much to do with ferments, pressing and barreling-down the new, luscious 2018 wines — and finding somewhere to put it, in some cases. Overall, the crop here was about 25 percent over normal. Cheers!”

Carneros — Christopher Hyde, Hyde Vineyards — “In the Carneros region we are closing in on a long and successful harvest. The weather has been cool through the fall, and ripeness has come slowly. Across the board yields have been high. The quality of the vintage shows outstanding potential.”

For real-time harvest photos and updates, visit the Napa Valley Vintners’ Harvest 2018 website at harvestnapa.com.

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St. Helena Reporter

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