The Napa Valley harvest is intensifying as growers start to bring in Cabernet Sauvignon.
At Clif Family Winery on Howell Mountain, Laura Barrett harvested a block of Cabernet Sauvignon three days ahead of schedule in anticipation of last week's thunderstorms, which turned out to do little more than dust off the grapes.
"It’s a risk versus reward game and with the 2020 vintage in my back pocket, I find myself unwilling to take such a risk for a few days of hang time," Barrett said.
On Ehlers Lane, George Watson reports, "We have been giving extra drip irrigation water to all our Cabernet and Cabernet Franc plants and are reminded that drip is no substitute for our normal winter rainfall."
Echoing many other correspondents, Watson said berries and bunches are smaller than normal, "however the farmer in me hopes our fruit will be very high in quality."
Here’s this week's harvest report, organized by American Viticultural Area (AVA):
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Matt Crafton, Chateau Montelena — “Harvest accelerated this week in Calistoga, especially in the eastern portion of the AVA and at altitude. Hillside Cabernet at Montelena has been hovering around 1 ton per acre at the scale, 25-40% below average. ‘Low yield but high quality’ continues to be the story locally, with some notable exceptions for Zinfandel, which has picked out well for a few growers. In general, sugar levels seem to be slightly ahead of flavors, especially in well-drained, rocky soils. Tannins and color, however, have been fantastic, which bodes well for the future of these wines.”
Diamond Mountain District
Dawnine Dyer, Dyer Vineyard — "The first of the Cabernet is starting to come in on Diamond Mountain. Since the heat over Labor Day and the thunderstorms that followed the weather has been picture perfect for ripening, and both Diamond Creek and Summit Vine are scheduled to pick this week. At Dyer Vineyard, where we dry farm, the crop came in last week with all the signs of full maturity plus the tiniest berries and just a little more acidity than usual. We could complain that the crop is down 30% — but won’t. Summit Vine has carefully monitored available water all summer and the vineyard is crossing the finish line in great form. All signs point to a stellar vintage."
Laura Barrett, Clif Family Winery — "Howell Mountain producers continued to chip away at harvest this week, with reports of more Zinfandel and a few blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon coming in. The weather event on Thursday night brought about a tenth of an inch of rain or less, which had little to no impact on the fruit. It settled the dust and was a gentle (and hopeful) reminder that winter rains will come. The lightning storm was a far greater concern. At Clif Family Winery, I opted to harvest a block of Cabernet three days ahead of schedule due to the forecast. It’s a risk versus reward game and with the 2020 vintage in my back pocket, I find myself unwilling to take such a risk for a few days of hang time. Thankfully, we are enjoying clear skies this week with a bit of mild heat, then some cooling ahead. Mike Lamborn of Lamborn Family Vineyards reports that his Cab is “unusually close behind the Zin, probably less than 7 days out.” And Brian Brakesman of Summit Lake Vineyards has a busy week of harvesting, pulling in the majority of his Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. He notes “a little higher sugar and a little lower acid, but very happy with the flavors.” It’s shaping up to be a stellar vintage on Howell Mountain!"
Chiles Valley District
Alexander Eisele, Volker Eisele Family Estate — "Lighting, thunder and just enough rain to keep the dust down. Harvest continues at a rapid pace. The first Merlot was harvested this week and the first Cabernet is very close. We welcome some cooler temperatures to bring things into balance. Green and red winemaker, Aaron Whitlach says the reds fermentations are smelling great and certainly have no shortage of color this year. He also says that they will finish up their harvest this week. It may just be an early finish for all."
Spring Mountain District
Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone Winery — "We’re all grateful that last week’s storm brought enough rain to wash the dust off our vines and give us a beautiful day to lighten our spirits and that it did not give us what we feared most. Similar to last year at this time, Spring Mountain District wineries are dealing with harvest in a very dissimilar fashion. School House has now finished their Chardonnay, yet Wes Steffens at 7&8 is only starting his Chardonnay this week. Keenan and Smith-Madrone were very busy last week yet Spring Mountain Vineyard and Schweiger were quiet. Most all of us are pushing hard this week, even Cabernet Franc is being harvested by Paloma, yet School House is waiting for their mixed reds, Zinfandel and Grenache to ripen. Ritchie Creek Vineyards has just finished their Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and will be the first on the Mountain to finish the 2021 harvest."
George Watson, ONE Vineyard — "ONE Vineyard is located mid-valley two miles north of St. Helena on Ehlers Lane. We have rocky alluvial soil of the Bale Loam series. We have been giving extra drip irrigation water to all our Cabernet and Cabernet Franc plants and are reminded that drip is no substitute for our normal winter rainfall. As of mid-August veraison was completed and now our sugars are around 23 Brix. Our neighbor Ehlers Estate and Batuello vineyards started red grape harvest late last week. Our berries and bunches are below normal in size and we will be below average in tonnage, however the farmer in me hopes our fruit will be very high in quality."
Matt Reid, Benessere Vineyards — "The 2021 harvest is off to a roaring start, with heat wave after heat wave pushing the grapes to ripeness. Lightning was scary but the little bit of rain so welcome. Whites are in and looking great. Crop size is sadly below average, but quality is amazing. Reds are now coming in strong. We have harvested Zinfandel planted in 1923 at the neighboring Collins Holystone vineyard, and have started the Sangiovese from our estate vineyard. Bordeaux varieties will have started by press time, though Cabernet Sauvignon, Aglianico, and Sagrantino will benefit from a bit more hang time.
Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyard & Winery — "It was hard to keep the anxiety at bay with last week’s weather forecasted thunderstorms. How fortunate we are that they amounted to nothing more than thunderstorms! At Honig, we wrapped up Sauvignon Blanc harvest last week and are continuing to bring in Cabernet Sauvignon each day, mostly from the St. Helena and Calistoga appellations. We expect to press out our first red fermentations later this week and are thrilled about what we are seeing in the fermenters. Enthusiasm for the 2021 appears to be universal around the neighborhood. From Rutherford Ranch Winery, Marc Zaccaria says, 'The Sauvignon blanc fermentations are moving along nicely, smelling and tasting amazing!' Marisa Taylor at Rutherford Hill Winery reports that they have harvested their Rutherford Malbec and are picking their estate hillside vineyard tonight. She echoes the excitement about 2021. 'Fermenters are smelling amazing! Excited for the year!' Chris Phelps at Inglenook shares more good news: 'Extraction of color and tannin is both impressive and rapid, so we are fermenting cooler and handling musts with kid gloves in order to produce vibrant, balanced wines.'
Jennifer Rue, Oakville Ranch Vineyards — "It’s time for the main event! In response to the warmer days and lower crop loads, the first flurry of red picks in Oakville included some Cabernet Franc at Detert and Cabernet Sauvignon at Dalla Valle. They aren’t alone. A quick drive across Oakville shows several red blocks picked in recent days. After consistently warm temperatures last week initially caused a jump in Brix, numbers have stabilized the past few days as we approach a period of moderate cooling this last week of summer. Pick dates are looking very similar to our most recent drought vintages, 2014 and 2015. As vines sense the end of summer, we are beginning to see basal leaf drop and other canopy changes. Still, the success of more widespread precision viticultural practices, including pin-point irrigation, shade cloth and misters, are helping keep vines happier and preventing blocks from crashing, staggering a potential tidal wave of grapes. Friday’s first red flag warning of harvest and prediction of lightning was cause for high anxiety. The storm passed without incident, departing with just a short cloudburst of rain and a collective sigh of relief."
Louis Kapcsandy Jr., Kapcsandy Family Winery — "Merlots around the appellation will be picked on either side of the coming weekend. Rain accumulation last week was in the 0.25” range, just enough to reinvigorate topsoils. The following day, sunny skies prevailed and the moisture had no time to penetrate the clusters. For historical perspective, there were a total of five related rainfall events in September 2007, all ranging from 0.1” to 0.5”, that compromised no clusters valley-wide, and resulted in one of the most uniform, exceptional vintages in the last 20 years. The Cabernets, in general, are 10-20 days away from optimal ripeness, depending upon vine age and soil composition. Despite the lighter-than-average crop, there is wide enthusiasm for the overall quality. Given that the valley has only received 12” of natural rain, since the middle of March 2020 (that’s correct, an 18-month span), the vines have adapted remarkably well. For this circumstance alone, we should all be deeply thankful."
Joel Antonio, Alpha Omega – Cordes Vineyard — "The tiny sprinkles from last week’s rain helped wash off any little ash or dust from the fires in California although the fire was far away. The moderate temperatures that followed will help extend ripening and vines can put more energy in the fruit instead of going dormant. Canopy management is always crucial but especially this vintage because of the drought and warm days. We didn’t do much leafing in our Cordes Vineyard on Atlas Peak because we needed the leaves for natural protection, so we didn’t have to worry about sunburn. This week, we’re ready to harvest our Block 8, Weimer clone of Cabernet Sauvignon.”
Stags Leap District
Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock Winery — "Things are getting progressively busier on crush-pads across the Stags Leap District. Our friend, Jon Emmerich, winemaker at Silverado Vineyards, reports that early Cabernet Sauvignon blocks are in from the SLD estate and suspects that things could be finished 'soon-ish.' Josh Widaman, winemaker at Pine Ridge Vineyards, was about to get started with Merlot and Malbec as well as some young vine Cabernet Sauvignon from SLD and thinks by next week, 'We’re going to be bringing in the SLD big guns!' Elias Fernandez, winemaker at Shafer Vineyards, after getting some Merlot and Cabernet in was expecting a slight slow down this week. Michael Baldacci, director of operations at his family winery, was still waiting on that last bit of phenological ripening on their SLD estate fruit. At Chimney Rock, we have seen some Malbec and Merlot at the crush pad with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc getting very, very close. We are seeing slightly smaller yields, but great flavor, color, and intensity on these early lots. I will close with Michael Baldacci’s warm words, 'Happy harvest everyone! Love our SLD neighborhood!'"
Lorenzo Dalla Brea, Hess Collection — "Cabernet Sauvignon harvest has begun on Mt Veeder! Last Friday we harvested our early ripening blocks from the Veeder Hills ranch. Despite yields were lower than expected, the quality of grapes in the picking bins resulted excellent. The season is tracking two weeks ahead of usual, with dry soils and hot temperatures accelerating the ripening of grapes."
Oak Knoll District
Jon Ruel, Trefethen Vineyards & Winery — "The early and late grape varieties usually spread themselves out, even when they seem compressed earlier in the season. But this year, we are indeed seeing the Bordeaux reds in the OKD overlapping with the last picks of Chardonnay. The nights have been quite cool which could allow for more hang time, but when the flavors are this good, it's time to pick. At Trefethen, we have nearly completed our Cabernet Franc and we picked our first Merlot this week. We will watch the weather and the grapes going forward, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot typically the last to arrive on the crush pad."
Tom Farella, Farella Vineyard — "So far, harvest is on pace for a relatively 'normal' year with fermenting white wines and reds on the verge of full ripeness now in the middle of September. By the end of the week, Pinot Noir and Merlot will be in the hopper with most of the Cabernet a little ways off. The condition of the fruit is excellent and crop levels for the reds seem close to normal. For now, we can hope for continued seasonal weather and clear air to make 2021 a fantastic vintage, overall."
For real-time harvest photos and updates, visit the Napa Valley Vintners’ Harvest 2021 website at harvestnapa.com.