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Altamuras

Earlier this year, Frank Altamura and his son, Giancarlo, examine bud break in the Sangiovese vineyard at their 400-acre vineyard, winery and ranch in Wooden Valley, about 12 miles east of the city of Napa.

Local grapegrowers welcomed last week’s rainfall, which cut down on vineyard dust and gave weary crews a break from picking.

Growers report everywhere from half an inch of rain on Chiles Valley to one and a half inches on Spring Mountain. The grapes that haven’t been harvested are thick-skinned enough to withstand the moisture, and no growers reported any rain-related damage.

“The constant breezes and warm weather are drying out clusters after the recent rain, providing excellent tannin maturation and phenolic complexity at reasonable brix,” writes Gordon Waggoner of Acumen Wines.

Monday’s one-year anniversary of the 2017 fires was on the minds of several correspondents.

“We are still so grateful for the amazing work of the first responders and profoundly sad for the loss of life and property which impacted our beloved wine country,” writes Elizabeth Vianna of Chimney Rock Winery, which survived a close call during the Atlas Fire. “Mother Nature seems to be more compassionate this year.”

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

Calistoga — Matt Crafton, Chateau Montelena — “The first real rain of this vintage has come and gone without much fanfare or worry. To be honest, there were quite a few of us here in Calistoga who were relieved to get some moisture ahead of the potentially mischievous offshore winds we’ve experienced over the weekend. And while picking slowed or stopped entirely in the immediate aftermath of the storm, the break gave picking crews a well-deserved rest and the winery team the opportunity to catch up on barrel work and maintenance. As the vineyard rows have dried out amidst thousands of little seedlings — volunteers from last year’s cover crop — the pace has returned to normal with beautiful fall weather ahead.”

Howell Mountain — Laura Barrett, Clif Family Winery — “Many wineries are in full swing with their Cabernet Sauvignon picks, and some are still waiting. Last week’s rain was more than we expected, with 1.25 inches recorded at the Clif Family weather stations, but certainly posed no issues on the mountain. It settled the dust, corrected some elevated sugars, and hydrated other sites for the dry wind that came through on Sunday. Mike Lamborn of Lamborn Family Vineyards has just one more Cabernet block to pick before his 2018 harvest comes to a close. Winemaker Mia Klein has great flavor development in most of her blocks and is waiting for a bit more tannin resolution before she will begin Cimarossa’s harvest early next week. And winemaker Cary Gott thinks it will be a few more weeks before he harvests his Cabernet from the Beatty Ranch for Davis Estates. With nothing but sunny skies and warmth in our mid-October forecast, this will be the icing on the cake for 2018 Howell Mountain Cabernet.”

Diamond Mountain District -- Dawnine Dyer, Dyer Vineyards -- "The rain last week didn’t amount to much on Diamond Mountain, but did keep soils damp for six days. The grapes kept ripening while sugars stayed fairly modest -- this week of breezy warm weather will push us towards the finish line. With 'one eye on the weather and one eye on ripeness,' Phil Steinschriber at Diamond Creek has started picking and expects the majority of their Cab to come in in another week. Andrew Geoffrey further up the hill has brought in about 1/4 of their fruit. After almost a month of small picks, it looks like harvest will reach a frenzied pace next week and then be done. Early word on yields is that they are on the high side of normal."

Chiles Valley District — Alexander Eisele, Volker Eisele Family Estate — “The past week brought slightly over a half-inch of rain to our district. No negative effects, just enough for a little dust control. Temperatures are absolutely perfect for flavor development in the remaining grapes hanging, now mostly Cabernet Sauvignon. Acids are still a bit on the high side. Yields in all varieties have been above average with outstanding quality.”

Spring Mountain District – Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone — “It was a welcome relief for the mountain to receive one and a half inches of rain. It settled the dust and scrubbed the fall landscape to a sparkling patina. It also gave a nice respite to the vineyard workers and gave the winemakers the needed time to press out some tanks. ‘I loved the rain,’ is how Andy Schweiger put it. Matt Gardner of Keenan says he’ll finish this week and is especially pleased with the vintage. Spring Mountain and Cain Vineyard & Winery are both picking right along. Schweiger has finished Cabernet Franc and Merlot and should start Cab this week. Late this week Paloma will re-start on Cabernet Sauvignon and Sherwin may begin with Merlot. While both Pride and Barnett have dipped a toe into the reds, they’re still in a holding pattern.”

St. Helena — Cathy Corison, Corison Winery — “It’s mostly Cabernet Sauvignon still out Upvalley. At Corison Winery we are picking our last grapes this week. We’re delighted with the inky color, deep flavors, velvety tannins and terrific natural acidity that are the result of a nearly perfect, long, cool ripening season. Julien Fayard notes that the dry north winds have dried out the grapes nicely so there is no threat from mold. Phillip Titus at Chappellet is starting to pick his reds, mentioning high anthocyanin levels and high acidity. Paraphrasing Pam Starr, ‘The rain, though larger than estimated … was actually helpful in the evolution of the Cabernet skins. We are back to picking this week and all of our estate should be complete by the end of October. Extracts are fantastic, the chemistry of the juice is yielding very fresh and juicy flavors!’ Aron Weinhauf at Spottswoode reports that they have harvested almost all their whites, about half their reds, and are looking for a final push over the next 10 days. Yields are average to high. All that said, fruit conditions are excellent, the moderate stresses are hopefully good for vine health. Alcohols will be low. At Titus, Stephen Cruzan has been waiting for acids to drop a bit and will be in full swing by the end of this week.”

Rutherford — Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyard & Winery — “The unsettled and cooler weather of the past week has given the crew (and the grapes) some much desirable hang time. As we move into the second week of October, the forecast is for a couple of weeks of crisp fall mornings and sunny skies. We are expecting the pace of harvest to increase with so many Cabernet blocks close to full maturity and flawless October ripening weather. Our first Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon arrived today, Monday, and it looks like we’ll have more to follow later in the week. On Monday, we pressed out and barreled down our first Cabernet Sauvignons of the vintage. A beautiful sight, seeing these lovely wines going to barrel.”

Oakville — Jennifer Rue, Oakville Ranch Vineyards — “Hold onto your hats, show time approaches. The second half of last week was occupied with evaluating blocks, leaf removal and lifting shade cloth to allow fruiting zones to dry. Anyone concerned about residual canopy dampness is resting more easily with the arrival of anticipated winds. Cabernet Sauvignon reigns supreme in Oakville and defines the crunch time of crush. There is no one definition of ripeness but the window of opportunity is dictated by weather and vine health. A collective sigh comes as Western Weather Group’s extended forecast predicts, ‘sunny, rather warm and very stable weather.’ By all appearances Cabernet season is opening. Compared to 2017, the timing and pacing of harvest 2018 is stark. Red flag warnings and the anniversary of last year’s fires bring powerful memories and gratitude for the action of harvest.”

Atlas Peak – Gordon Waggoner, Acumen Wines — “Harvest volumes continue to increase on Atlas Peak. Nearly all whites have been picked, with reds of all varietals coming in with sizable volume. On the Acumen Estate, Malbec and Cabernet are coming in strong, with Merlot roughly two weeks out. Several clients are picking over the next week as brix targets are hit. The constant breezes and warm weather are drying out clusters after the recent rain, providing excellent tannin maturation and phenolic complexity at reasonable brix. Volumes are higher than anticipated, even after a second fruit pass, but the quality of the vintage has been truly exceptional thus far.”

Stags Leap District — Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock Winery — “It is difficult to write a report on this date without the visceral memory of the same evening one year ago with fires indiscriminately threatening the valley. We are still so grateful for the amazing work of the first responders and profoundly sad for the loss of life and property which impacted our beloved wine country. Mother Nature seems to be more compassionate this year. The recent rain in the district caused a slight pause in harvest last week as we waited for things to dry out. The subsequent warm and dry weather had us doing cartwheels, as it was exactly what the remaining grapes needed. Celia Welch, winemaker for Lindstrom Vineyards, reports that they have started harvesting Cabernet Sauvignon on the warmer, rockier west-facing slopes and are hoping to bring in the other blocks late next week. She reports they have ‘great color and flavors this year!’ Ted Henry, winemaker at Clos Du Val, was still waiting on Cabernet Sauvignon and working through their Merlot. Jeff Owens, winemaker at Odette Estate, had only picked some Merlot with Malbec grapes on the horizon, although the Cabernet Sauvignon has another two weeks to go. Marcus Notaro, winemaker at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, shares that they ‘haven’t picked much, just some Cab from the upper slopes of Fay. Love the color, great aromas, texture too on the early lots is nice and bright, full bodied.’ At Chimney Rock, we are finishing up Merlot this week and should be starting to harvest our long-awaited Cabernet Sauvignon any day now. The consensus in our AVA is that quality is quite remarkable with beautiful color and flavor, and lovely acidity due to the cooler weather this year.”

Mount Veeder — Lorenzo Dalla Brea, Hess Collection — “Wet days and cloudy skies of last week definitely slowed down ripening of Mount Veeder grapes. Since our white grapes were already in house, we did not experience any damage from the rain. Instead the rain rinsed off some of the dust accumulated on the plants and clusters during the growing season and overall refreshed the canopy. While our Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are still quite far from optimal ripeness, our Estate Malbec is getting closer every day to be harvested, with Brix now averaging between 24 and 26. While Malbec skins remain thick to the taste, it is within the pulp of the grape where we taste an important change, with varietal flavors developing and getting more ripe every day. This week will most likely be the beginning of our harvest of red varieties, but I anticipate next week being the week of harvest when things will get very busy!”

Oak Knoll District -- Jon Ruel, Trefethen Vineyards -- "This week is all about Cabernet and Malbec for us. The fine weather has some blocks ripe and ready while others will need to hang just a bit longer. I didn't hear much from other OKD wineries this week; they must be busy crushing it."

Coombsville — Tom Farella, Farella Vineyards — “Oct. 8, one year later and almost exactly the same weather and harvest timing at this stage as 2017. We are starting in to our Cabernet as the winds rake the vines and desiccate clusters that were on the edge. Fortunately, we are seeing excellent balance in the sugar/acid ratios and will get started on the latest batch of fruit from our estate. Windy weather isn’t really ripening weather but we were close on these hillside Cabernet blocks and are excited to get it in and leave the latest blocks for a week or so. Happy harvest, everyone!”

Carneros -- Christopher Hyde, Hyde Vineyards -- "On the homestretch with late-season varieties in Carneros as we had a warm weekend and some wind to push ripeness in the grapes. The rain last week was just enough to invigorate the vines and keep the dust down. Yields in late-season read varieties are high this year."

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.