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Smith-Madrone Chardonnay

Tuesday was harvest day for Smith-Madrone Chardonnay grapes like these.

The harvesting of white grapes like Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay continues in the Napa Valley, but growers are still waiting for temperatures and sugar levels to rise before harvesting their reds.

“It may be another year, like 2017, where the sugars are a little lower relative to acidity which works well for us,” said Tom Farella of Farella Vineyards. “This last half of the summer is reminiscent of 2010, the coolest summer in memory (so far without the rude, nasty, three-day heat spike).”

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

Calistoga — Matt Crafton, Chateau Montelena — “Another relatively quiet week as the majority of the white grapes in Calistoga have been harvested. It’s been quite a few years since the crush pad has been idle on Labor Day at Montelena, but it’s been great to give the crew some rest before we get too busy. While most of the attention thus far has been on the cool weather down valley and its effect on Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, Calistoga has seen consistent temperatures each afternoon in the mid-80s, perfect for our Zinfandel and Cabernet.”

Howell Mountain – Laura Barrett, Clif Family Winery — “With temperatures creeping up into the low 90s on Howell Mountain, we are seeing twice as many degree days accumulate as compared to last week. This should accelerate ripening, pushing the last green Cabernet Sauvignon clusters through veraison. Mia Klein of Cimarossa was spot on when she observed ‘8-10 days of fairly uniform warm weather alternating with the same time of slightly cooler temperatures.’ This season’s weather pattern is reminding Mike Lamborn of Lamborn Family Vineyards of the ‘old days.’ He is looking forward to ripening his robust Zinfandel crop without any shrinkage. Collectively, Howell Mountain vintners are wishing for more of the same.”

Diamond Mountain District — Dawnine Dyer, Dyer Vineyards — “Temperatures returned to normal over the Labor Day weekend with foggy mornings and afternoon temperatures reaching into the high 80s. Great weather for ripening and veraison is now all but finished on Diamond Mountain. Canopies are healthy, the last green thinning is done, and the wait for harvest is on. So far no one is even checking sugar levels but we should have baseline information next week.”

Chiles Valley District — Alexander Eisele, Volker Eisele Family Estate — “Harvest is underway; Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio are the first to be harvested. Yields are average to above average with beautiful clean quality fruit. Chardonnay is still far behind, lingering in the 17-19 Brix range. The days have been mild with cool overnight lows, followed by morning fog. Nice steady progression to ripening. Verasion in Cabernet is almost complete.”

Spring Mountain District – Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone — “With warming weather Stony Hill will start harvesting Chardonnay later this week or early next week. ‘I’m excited; the 2018 vintage is looking good,’ is how Mike Chelini of Stony Hill sizes up the upcoming harvest. ‘We’re lucky being in the Napa Valley with our great weather especially compared to Europe,’ he adds. Starting his 47th harvest at Stony Hill, Mike remembers only two especially difficult vintages. In 1972, as the new Stony Hill vineyard manager, Mike managed a crew of one – himself. He pruned and managed the vineyard entirely by himself. Two years later Fred and Eleanor McCrea asked Mike to also be their winemaker and it became a friendship which lasted for the rest of their lives. It’s an end of an era: with the change of ownership this will be Mike’s last vintage at Stony Hill.”

St. Helena – Stephen Taplin, Taplin Cellars — “The Cabernet harvest still looks up to four weeks away here in St. Helena. Some are picking Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay now but the persistent cool temperatures of the 80s and low 90s are contributing to a slow, steady maturation of Cabernet, the predominant grape in our appellation.”

Rutherford — Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyard & Winery — “The cooler temperatures and slower start to getting harvest into full swing has brought the benefit of fine-tuning our new destemmer and experimenting with some new fermentation ideas. On all fronts, we are delighted with the results. We bought in our first Sauvignon Blanc from our home vineyard today (Labor Day) and are thrilled with the nicely balanced flavors and fresh acidity. It looks to be relatively calm until the end of the week, with vineyard samples showing fruit ever so close to being ready to bring in. Valley floor Cabernet Sauvignons are looking lovely, with Brix in the 20-21 range. With the moderate weather in play we don’t expect to see any reds until the beginning of October.”

Oakville – Jennifer Rue, Oakville Ranch Vineyards — “Vines in Oakville and across the valley are almost clocking banker’s hours, with a marine layer burning off around 10 a.m. and cooling breezes kicking in by 4 p.m. These lovely days bring a steadiness to the ripening curve and we are seeing flavors developing very nicely at lower Brix. Tannins are also bearing a lushness that feels on pace to resolve without excessive hanging. If the weather keeps up like this we’re in for a beautiful harvest with wonderful flavors and lower alcohols. However, we farmers can be a superstitious bunch and the surprise ending to 2017 sticks with many of us, reminding us not to count our chickens until they hatch.”

Stags Leap District — Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock Winery — “In Stags Leap District this week, we were all remembering the heat spike we experienced last year at this time and relieved that 2018 is off to a very different start. Michael Beaulac, at Pine Ridge Vineyards, tells me that his vineyard manager, Gustavo, was on vacation, so he was feeling relaxed going into Labor Day week. Michael Baldacci at Baldacci Family Vineyards remarked, ‘This cool weather has definitely slowed things down and I would guess that we are closer to two weeks behind last year. I already like some of the flavors that I tasted in the vineyard. It looks like we will make it through Labor Day without any crazy heat like last year which is awesome!’ At Chimney Rock, we continue to enjoy the perfect ripening weather and my team is delighted to have a stress-free long weekend.”

Mount Veeder — Lorenzo Dalla Brea, Hess Collection — “Due to mild temperatures, ripening last week moved very slowly, barely accumulating 1 Brix on white varieties on Mount Veeder. While our crews are getting ready for the upcoming harvest, we look at the slow ripening as a positive drive for a more uniform ripening within each block. For Chardonnay we see varietal flavor development, while acidities are still maintaining fairly high levels, this is typical for our elevated location on Mount Veeder. Looking at results from last samples we are still most likely two weeks away from any start of the 2018 harvest.”

Oak Knoll District – Jon Ruel, Trefethen Vineyards — “Temperatures remained pretty mild over the past week as growers continued to pick early varieties. Brad Smith at Silenus brought in some Sauvignon Blanc but says their ‘estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are still a ways away.’ Steve Matthiasson has been picking Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and is ‘excited that sugars are low relative to flavors and acids.’ At Trefethen, we brought in more Chardonnay and picked Pinot Noir for Mumm Napa. We remain very optimistic about the quality of the vintage.”

Coombsville — Tom Farella, Farella Vineyards — “The weather is holding at cool and mild. Things are progressing but still on the slow side. It may be another year, like 2017, where the sugars are a little lower relative to acidity which works well for us. This last half of the summer is reminiscent of 2010, the coolest summer in memory (so far without the rude, nasty, three-day heat spike). We should be getting Sauvignon Blanc by the end of the week.”

Carneros – Christopher Hyde, Hyde Vineyards — “After weeks of cool weather, temperatures have warmed up as harvest starts to get into full swing in Carneros. The warmer weather is welcomed by all and will mean lots of action for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir growers and wineries alike in the next couple of weeks.”

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

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St. Helena Reporter

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