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Harvest

Workers rush to harvest Zinfandel before the rain arrives at the new Girard Winery on Dunaweal Lane.

Harvest is in full swing in most of the Napa Valley, with Zinfandel, Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon rolling onto crush pads.

“Most of the thin-skin varieties are off the vine in Calistoga with a few exceptions, predominantly on the west side of the AVA, which experiences more afternoon shade,” reports Matt Crafton of Chateau Montelena. “Picking has been slow and methodical, which requires some mental stamina, but inevitably yields to better results in tank.”

Stu Smith of Smith-Madrone is already done harvesting grapes, although a few other Spring Mountain wineries are still picking or haven’t even started.

“So far the chemistry of high acidity, low pHs and moderately high sugars are offering some great-tasting fruit,” Smith reports.

Growers generally aren’t worried about rain in the forecast, since the remaining varieties are thick-skinned enough to withstand the moisture.

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

Calistoga — Matt Crafton, Chateau Montelena — “We certainly experienced all that fall has to offer this week. Periods of sunshine, plenty of warmth, along with a healthy dose of fog and the season’s first rain capped the excitement as we steamroll into October. Most of the thin-skin varieties are off the vine in Calistoga with a few exceptions, predominantly on the west side of the AVA, which experiences more afternoon shade. Picking has been slow and methodical, which requires some mental stamina, but inevitably yields to better results in tank. The moderate weather has been a boon for berry color; expect some inky wines from the 2018 vintage.”

Howell Mountain — Laura Barrett, Clif Family Winery — “Harvest is on in the Howell Mountain AVA. As I drove down Ink Grade Road Monday morning, I passed many trucks hauling the mornings picks. At Clif Family, we pulled in the last of our Estate Zinfandel in anticipation of rain on Tuesday. The harvest date on this block is one month later than 2017. Mike Lamborn of Lamborn Family Vineyards also picked his Zinfandel ‘to beat the rain.’ And Brian Brakesman of Summit Lake Vineyards reports his ‘Zinfandel is off the vine with incredible depth of flavor, balanced juice chemistry and plenty of natural acids.’ There are many that have harvested Cabernet Sauvignon as well. The Clif Family Croquet Vineyard was picked last week with exceptional quality and yields similar to last year. Danielle Cyrot, Winemaker at CADE, brought in a small amount of Cabernet from the north side of the AVA. She expects more to come after the storm system passes with Merlot, Malbec and additional Cabernet on the schedule. For some, the first rainfall can bring panic and concern, but for Brian Brakesman, ‘these upcoming rains are just what the cabs need to take a little stress off the vines.”

Diamond Mountain District — Dawnine Dyer, Dyer Vineyards — “One by one vineyards on Diamond Mountain are being picked. Summit Vineyard picked their upper block at the end of last week, Sori Bricco came in on Monday, and Vineyard 511 will pick as soon as it clears. Writing on Monday, the weather forecast is still noncommittal about how much it will rain. While enough rain and humidity could cause problems for the vintage, so far everything looks really promising and even with the clouds we are getting flavor development and minor increases in Brix as we head into the home stretch. Dirk Fulton at The Vineyardist put it best: ‘Be patient and Mother Nature will deliver.’”

Chiles Valley District — Alexander Eisele, Volker Eisele Family Estate — “A lot of picking taking place. In light of the moisture many have been scrambling for tank space and harvesting as much as possible. Crop quality looks excellent and is bountiful. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot need a bit more time for optimal seed development. The thick skins and loose clusters should ‘weather the weather’ in good form. The temperate weather has allowed us to maintain a very balanced and healthy canopy that has plenty of energy left in it, to get the fruit to wherever the winemaker chooses to take it.”

Spring Mountain District – Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone — “As in most things on Spring Mountain we all pull on the oars to a different drumbeat. Togni and Smith-Madrone have finished harvesting grapes, with Keenan closing in. Pride and 7 & 8 will finish their whites this week and then go into a holding pattern for the reds, as are Schweiger and Stony Hill. Spring Mountain and Cain are actively picking reds. Sherwin and Paloma, producers of only reds, have yet to start. So far the chemistry of high acidity, low pHs and moderately high sugars are offering some great-tasting fruit. This is a harvest that reminds me of an old saying I learned long ago: ‘Big harvests get bigger and little harvests get littler.’ Clearly this is a harvest that’s getting bigger.”

St. Helena — Richard Lenney, Prager Winery & Port Works — “Following a bit of a heat spike last week, we harvested the first block of our Paladini Vineyard on Sulfur Springs Avenue. The beautiful Petite Sirah fruit came in with solid chemistry and fantastic flavors. Cool damp weather over the weekend and into the first part of this week slowed the ripening, and we anticipate harvesting the remaining blocks in about a week. This extra hang time should allow for deep rich flavors to develop, perhaps leading to our first declared Vintage Port in nine years.”

Rutherford — Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyard & Winery — “The weather forecast is the first read of the morning during harvest. After several weeks of mild, excellent ripening weather, we are headed into a more fall-like, unsettled pattern. Truth be told, we are looking forward to the little splash of rain headed our way. It will settle the dust, brighten up the landscape and give crush weary cellar crews a much-deserved rest. All of the Sauvignon Blanc was in by the middle of last week and we are about 40 percent done with Cabernet Sauvignon. Rutherford AVA Cabernet is still on the vine and in perfect condition. A little rain followed by some warmer weather is expected to carry it to full maturity and create some beautiful wines.”

Oakville — Jennifer Rue, Oakville Ranch Vineyards — “Last week finally felt like harvest! Warm temperatures brought both white and red grapes crisscrossing the valley, the glow of light rigs before dawn, trucks hauling bins and gondolas on the Trail day and night. It is fair to say that white harvest has ended in Oakville and we’ve moved into the bigger berried red varietals – Zin, Merlot, Malbec. Cameron Parry reports Groth has pressed off their first Merlot ferment, noting ‘great extraction and excellent balance.’ At Paradigm, Mark Fasi comments that while Zin is in the house, Merlot is expected later this week with ‘Cab still in the distance with good flavors and sugar … waiting on the pH to make a jump upward.’ Heading east, there are clear signs of action at Rudd, and up at Oakville Ranch, we’ve brought in a small amount of Cabernet Franc for clients and our Field Blend of Zin and Petite Sirah is likely to come in toward this weekend. There has been a palpable shift in energy as the string of warmer days and murmurs of cooling and unsettled weather early this week prove to be the nudge for movement we winemakers sometimes need. A dust-settling rain is not unusual in early October. Luckily, Cabernet can tolerate some moisture, especially when followed by the warm and breezy conditions forecasted to appear later on this week.”

Atlas Peak – Gordon Waggoner, Acumen Wines — “Harvest has begun in earnest on Alas Peak. Many blocks are being picked from warmer sites on Stagecoach and other vineyards above the fogline and with southwestern exposures. Gamling & McDuck harvested their Cabernet Franc off Stagecoach on Sept. 27. At Acumen we harvested our Sauvignon Blanc on Sept. 26, with Merlot and Malbec to start later this week. Dos Lagos looks to start picking their Cabernet Sauvignon next week. While there is rain in the forecast, we often have the luxury of waiting to pick later, as strong afternoon breezes will dry our loose clusters with little mildew pressure.”

Stags Leap District — Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock Winery — “Patience continues to be a requirement for this one. Although there was a little more harvesting activity in the Stags Leap District this week, we are still far from the finish line. Marcus Notaro, winemaker at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, was going to harvest some more ‘fringes from upper Fay Monday.’ He remarked on the great fruit flavors thus far. Elias Fernandez, winemaker at Shafer Vineyards, has harvested some Merlot, Malbec, and Syrah albeit slowly, and was planning on slowing down again after the weather disturbance mid-week. Michael Beaulac at Pine Ridge finally started with some hillside Cabernet and some ‘beautiful Malbec.’ He was astounded by the beautiful color and remarked on heavy tonnage which seems to be the trend so far. Remi Cohen and her team at Cliff Lede are further ahead, having 30 percent of their SLD estate fruit in, and they are excited about the color and great flavors. At Chimney Rock, we are nursing our first lot of Merlot, which was absolute perfection at the crush pad. We will wait through the upcoming rain until things dry out to get going again.”

Mount Veeder — Lorenzo Dalla Brea, Hess Collection — “Last week was a busy week on the mountains, with vineyard crews completing the harvest of Gruner Veltliner and Albarino. Yields were above average and quality of grapes was superb, with ripeness driven by the warm days we experienced early/middle last week. Warm temperatures drove the maturity for red varieties, with some early blocks of Malbec now showing Brix levels in the 25-26 range. The cooling trend that has been predicted for this week will still drive maturity while retaining the acidity of grape juices that is typical of our mountain estate fruit. For next week we may harvest some of those early blocks. The busiest part of the season is still waiting for us, possibly 7 to 10 days.”

Oak Knoll District – Jon Ruel, Trefethen Vineyards — “Across the OKD, growers and winemakers have been very happy with the grapes picked so far. The small amount of rain we got this week delayed some picking but is not expected to have a deleterious effect on the outstanding grapes, as most are of the thick-skinned varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. At Trefethen, we have already picked most of our Merlot and we just got started with our Cabernet. Steve Moulds reports that they picked their Cabernet Franc over a week ago and they too are now working on Cabernet Sauvignon, after seeing ripening continue ‘at a fast clip.’ Over at Robert Biale Vineyards, higher than average tonnage has made for full tanks in the cellar. But the early lots are already getting pressed off, making room for Zinfandel from their Oak Knoll vineyards. Their winemaker, Tres Goetting, reports ‘bright fresh fruit flavors with high natural acidity which will make for some beautiful wines for aging.’”

Coombsville — Tom Farella, Farella Vineyards — “Under cloudy skies the last few days with more to come, so harvest issues have slowed a bit. We harvested Merlot and Malbec last week in with healthy quantities and excellent condition. So far the mild lead-up to harvest is playing out nicely with moderate but steady fruit ripening and plenty of harvesting windows to choose from. The Cabernet harvest is yet to really get going and, now in October, we hope for continued development as we anticipate harvesting Cab starting next week.”

Carneros – Christopher Hyde, Hyde Vineyards — “The weather has been cloudy in Carneros, with rain forecasted for this week. Harvest of late season reds has started with Merlot at Hyde Vineyard, and later this week we will pick our first Syrah of 2018. Ripening has been remarkably slow, and there is great potential for making high-quality wine this vintage.”

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.