The 2019 harvest is just beginning on the floor of the Napa Valley, but many growers say their grapes are still weeks away from reaching maturity.
Sauvignon Blanc from Gordon Valley arrived at the Honig presses last Thursday. Calistoga growers have harvested some Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. In the Oak Knoll District, Trefethen Vineyards has picked some grapes for sparkling wine and some Pinot Noir for rosé. In Carneros, growers have harvested Pinot Noir for sparkling wine.
Growers agree it will still be weeks before the big harvest push, and even longer on the hillsides.
“It will be October before we see any serious action,” said Dawnine Dyer of Dyer Vineyards on Diamond Mountain.
Here’s this week’s harvest report, the first of the season, organized by American Viticultural Area (AVA):
Calistoga — Matt Crafton, Chateau Montelena — “It was quite the sight in Calistoga as the small white grape harvest of mostly Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc began mid-month amidst veraison in many Cabernet vineyards. But such is the case with the weather in 2019. What began late and cool with plentiful, anomalous May rains has settled into a more reasonable, and dare I say it, normal cadence. While July and August have certainly been warm with a few periods of serious heat, many sites are maturing at a rate similar to 2018. Time will tell if that continues as we head into September.”
Jesse Fox, Amici Cellars — “Our team at Amici brought in our first taste of the 2019 harvest. The weather was mostly perfect fog blanketing the valley most mornings with diurnals stretching warm and sunny in the late afternoon. Sauvignon Blanc arrived today and will be followed quickly by an early hilltop block of Pinot Noir Dijon clone from the Russian River later this week. This Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc arrived showing great promise with a balance of laser acidity, florality, both white and yellow, with light melon and fresh guava. The first of what looks to be a promising vintage, highlighting balance, freshness and maturity. Couldn’t ask for a better start and looking forward to what could easily be another stellar Northern California vintage.”
Howell Mountain — Laura Barrett, Clif Family Winery — “Howell Mountain began the growing season about 2-3 weeks later than the norm. After a successful bloom and set, we began to see a more accelerated development pattern due to a slightly warmer summer as compared to 2018. Mike Lamborn of Lamborn Family Vineyards says, ‘We have smaller and fewer clusters than usual and the resulting development has been naturally faster.’ At Clif Family Winery, we are very excited for what is progressing into a unique and great year on Howell Mountain.”
Diamond Mountain District — Dawnine Dyer, Dyer Vineyards — “From our perch here on Diamond Mountain at the north end of the Mayacamas Mountains, we watch the beginnings of the harvest with interest. It will be October before we see any serious action. Like the rest of Napa Valley, we had a very wet and late spring. That pushed bloom into mid-June in some parts of the AVA. There’s been some catch-up and most of our vineyards are fully colored and through, or nearly through, veraison. That’s maybe a week later than last year but not nearly as late as we anticipated earlier in the season.”
Chiles Valley District — Alexander Eisele, Volker Eisele Family Estate — “With the nice amount of rain (approximately 44”) during the dormant season and beyond, the 2019 growing season began with a roar. Full soil profiles and warm temperatures resulted in significant vegetative growth that required more canopy management than in some years. Late rains in May made timely suckering and lateral removal passes even more important. Ripening has been quite consistent though at this point we are likely running about a week behind previous years. Crop loads look good though certainly not as prolific as last year. No fruit has been harvested so fair, though Sauvignon Blanc is getting close.”
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Spring Mountain District – Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone — “Our mountain is finishing up veraison for the reds which is quite similar to last year and 2012 and 2013. Ron Rosenbrand of Spring Mountain Winery may start with Sauvignon Blanc just after the Labor Day weekend. After talking with Matt Gardner at Keenan, Chris Howell at Cain Cellars and Sheldon Richards at Paloma, there’s fairly good consensus we’re running about 10 days to two weeks later than normal. We’ve all had to fight tremendous vine growth because of the high rainfall and those 5-6 inches of rain in May germinated every weed seed in existence. The Chardonnay crop is clearly up, Zinfandel is down and while the rest look good, it appears this crop will be smaller than last year’s.”
St. Helena — Igor Sill, Sill Family Vineyards — “The week’s sunlight and warm temperatures cast their vital physiological functions and each berry’s sugars naturally start to accumulate, softening the berries and changing their colors from green to red. This phase is referred to as veraison and I assess our vineyard as 50% veraison. This is one of the most important phases in our grape vine’s lifecycle. Early this past Sunday morning, I pruned, hedged, tucked and palissaged the canopies to allow for more photosynthesis which should result in better berry ripening. The cooler night time temperatures keep the berries’ acids from dissipating completely. This is one of the many reasons why St. Helena is such an ideal place to farm exceptionally perfect grapes. Our next step in the vineyard will be a painful one for me personally: green harvesting. Green harvesting is where we thin out several of our vines’ ‘less than perfect grape clusters’ by dropping unripe bunches that may not be developing in an even or perfect pattern. This is one of many vineyard tasks we use to ensure that only a few ‘perfect’ clusters per vine receive their critical growth energies at this later stage. Though we purposely reduce the yield to only half the amount of grapes per acre compared to other vineyards, the remaining fruit is as close to flawless as one can get.”
Rutherford — Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyard & Winery — “It’s almost time! Gordon Valley, located in the southeast of the Napa Valley Appellation, is the source of the first Sauvignon Blanc to arrive at Honig each year. We raised a glass to the 2019 harvest and loaded the fruit into the presses on Thursday, Aug. 22. The cool summer has produced a somewhat later start to harvest than average, but it looks like we’ll be deep into Sauvignon Blanc before Labor Day. The warm-up this week has caused ripening to speed up and we are ready to get harvest fully underway. We’ll have our first Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc in by the end of the week! Vámonos!”
Oakville — Jennifer Rue, Hoopes Vineyard — “The last weeks of August mark a period of transition. In the vineyard, veraison — the change from berry sizing to sugar loading — is the ultimate transition. This year, heat spikes have slowed this softening and coloring of the berries and crews are just finishing making green drop passes as we complete veraison. The start date for picks in Oakville is looking pretty similar to last year which trended a couple weeks later than the prior handful of early vintages putting us an easy 5-6 weeks away from the main event. In the winery it’s the end of summer bottling, completing the preparation of equipment to receive fruit and bringing in new cooperage for the vintage.”
Atlas Peak – Mark Castaldi, Acumen Wines — “It’s been a picture-perfect season on Atlas Peak this year. We had good set and mild weather all year long, with very few days over 100 degrees. We’re just through a very fast veraison period with an average-sized crop. Generous rainfall in May has kept the need for supplemental water pretty low. We’re excited for early flavor development on the Sauvignon Blanc, and lack of green flavors in our red varieties for this stage of the season. First reds are on track for harvest the last week of September/early October, with Sauvignon Blanc a couple weeks earlier.”
Stags Leap District — Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock Winery — “In Stags Leap District things are still quiet on the harvest front. After a rainy winter and cool wet spring we all expect a start date similar to 2018 for Bordeaux varieties. Expectations for quality are high. Jon Emmerich, winemaker at Silverado Vineyards, reports that sugars are ranging between 16-20 Brix and he is seeing looser clusters and smaller berries. Elias Fernandez, winemaker at Shafer Vineyards, reports that he expects a mid-September start with lower yields than 2018 but higher than average. Remi Cohen, at Cliff Lede Vineyards, reports that vineyards look beautiful after some serious canopy and fruit management passes. At Chimney Rock we have been thinning in the vineyards also, after observing some lack of uniformity at the end of veraison. Our team is ready to go with a sparkling clean cellar. It is all a waiting game for now.”
Oak Knoll District — Jon Ruel, Trefethen Vineyards — “It’s that time again! Our cellars are clean and ready and the grapes are already coming off the vine. Harvest for sparkling wines started last week and here at Trefethen we have also picked some Pinot Noir for our rosé program. The warm weather this summer helped advance the grapes, which were running a little later than usual after the wet spring. Flavors are building nicely now and we will soon be quite busy with Chardonnay. How quickly we get to and through the red varieties will depend on the weather to come.”
Coombsville — Tom Farella, Farella Vineyards — “Coombsville has had a mixed summer with classic summer fog patterns and a few notable heat waves. It looks like another healthy crop with some large berries here and there. Pockets of veraison still happening in some blocks and, overall, still tracking about a week behind our typical Sauvignon Blanc harvest around Labor Day.”
Carneros — Christopher Hyde, Hyde Vineyards — “Harvest has officially kicked off in Los Carneros. The last couple of weeks Pinot Noir started coming off the vine for sparkling wine, and with the heat over the weekend harvest will move into full swing with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and other early-season varieties. The 2019 growing season has been an interesting one, with weather causing slow ripening and heat spikes followed by cooler weather and occasional bouts of humidity in between. Vine canopy growth only slowed down just a couple of weeks ago, and with continued heat things could now move quickly.”
For real-time harvest photos and updates, visit the Napa Valley Vintners’ Harvest 2019 website at harvestnapa.com.