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Brandon deLeuze of ZD Wines helps pour recently harvested grapes.

The harvest of Cabernet Sauvignon, the Napa Valley’s signature crop, has begun.

Growers in St. Helena, Rutherford, Calistoga, Stags Leap District and Spring Mountain District report harvesting their first Cabernet Sauvignon in recent days. Elsewhere in the valley, growers like Dawnine Dyer on Diamond Mountain are anticipating the beginning of Cabernet harvest in the first week of October.

“These warm days and cool nights are textbook perfect for that last bit of ripening that Cabernet needs to build tannins and maintain acidity — the framework required for great structure and power in wines,” Dyer said.

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

Calistoga — Matt Crafton, Chateau Montelena — “We’re finally rolling. It was great to see so much activity, especially in the southeast portion of the AVA, which tends to retain the afternoon warmth a bit longer than elsewhere. Almost all of the attention has been on Bordeaux varieties, specifically Merlot and Cabernet, but old vine Zinfandel has been coming off the vines steadily as well. On the crush pad we’re seeing very small berries and thick skins without any raisining, thanks to the cool nighttime temps and humidity from the onshore flow. In general, quality is outstanding thus far.”

Howell Mountain — Laura Barrett, Clif Family Winery — “For some, harvest is beginning to accelerate on Howell Mountain. Duane Dappen of Bravante Vineyards pressed his first grapes of the season, Estate Sauvignon Blanc from their Black Oak Vineyard. At Clif Family, I picked a small block of Estate Zinfandel (2.5 weeks later than 2017!) that came in at 25 Brix, great acidity and wonderful flavors. However, others are still waiting for the rush to begin. Erin Smith of O’Shaughnessy Winery said, ‘we are patiently waiting for grapes to ripen. We expect to begin harvesting in a couple weeks.’ And Mike Lamborn of Lamborn Family Vineyards reports that his ‘Zin crop is large and causing it to lag behind.’ He is looking at mid-October for his Zinfandel and perhaps a young block of Cabernet is a week away. I expect with the few days of heat ahead, followed by the predicted cooler week, we will all hang on for some more time on the vine.”

Diamond Mountain District — Dawnine Dyer, Dyer Vineyards — “These warm days and cool nights are textbook perfect for that last bit of ripening that Cabernet needs to build tannins and maintain acidity — the framework required for great structure and power in wines. On Diamond Mountain small lots of Merlot are the focus this week while winemakers narrow in on picking dates for Cabernet. Acids are still running on the high side and we need a little shift to finish off what is shaping up to be an epic harvest. The heat this week should kick off the main wave of Cabernet anticipated to start the first week of October.”

Chiles Valley District — Alexander Eisele, Volker Eisele Family Estate — “So far the weather has been cooperating and it has been a slow and steady harvest. No scramble for tank space. Overall most are reporting about 10 day later than last year for the varieties harvested so far, with slightly higher than average yields. Most non-hillside Zinfandel and Merlot is hovering around 23 Brix. No reports of any Cab having been harvested so far.”

Spring Mountain District – Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone — “Harvest on Spring Mountain is starting in earnest. Matt Gardner of Keenan Winery is picking a little bit of Cabernet, Merlot and Cabernet Franc and expects to continue into early next week. Matt reports fabulous fruit and higher than normal tonnage. Smith-Madrone has finished Merlot and is currently picking Cabernet and like Keenan will be picking into next week. Chris Howell of Cain Cellars is just getting going with Merlot and Malbec and also expects to continue harvesting other reds. And as is customary on our mountain, other wineries are picking a block here or there while a few other wineries have yet to pick anything.”

St. Helena — Jean Hoefliger, AXR Napa Valley — “Because of the mild temperatures during the growing season, the sugars and the phenolics have been able to ripen beautifully together. So far, it is a picture perfect vintage in St. Helena with wine that will have complexity, density and freshness. These last four days of warm temperatures are just accelerating the process slightly. The aromatic levels of this vintage are out of this world, and if we are lucky enough for the rain to hold off until November, this vintage will be remembered as one of the greatest.”

Rutherford — Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyard & Winery — “Our first Cabernet Sauvignon (St. Helena appellation) arrived in perfect condition on Sept. 20. With the last of the whites due to arrive on Wednesday (Sept. 26), managing the overlap with reds and whites has kept us on our toes. Often, there is a short break between the completion of whites and the start of reds, giving us a brief chance to take a breath. This year is proving otherwise. The first Sauvingon Blanc tanks have completed fermentation and early blending activities are taking place to make room for what looks to be an abundant, as well as excellent Cabernet harvest. It looks like we will have a steady, but quite manageable stream of Cabernet coming in with picks scheduled through the end of the week … so far.”

Atlas Peak – Gordon Waggoner, Acumen Wines — “Ideal ripening conditions continue on Atlas Peak with brown seeds and exceptional phenolics. We are seeing yellow leaves starting to appear in the fruit zone, especially in sites above the fogline and with SW exposures. Whites will be picked from warm blocks before the end of the month, while reds from cooler locations will start picking in October. Michael Parmenter from VinRoc says, ‘The Vines are looking very good, and yields should be above average. However our sugar is between 20 and 21 Brix, which indicates we will be looking at mid to late October harvest.’

Stags Leap District — Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock Winery — “Last week the Stags Leap District harvest report was a bit of a sleeper, but the heat of this past week and weekend was just what we needed to get things rolling in our little neighborhood, and like the temperatures our excitement levels are on the rise. Elias Fernandez, winemaker at Shafer Vineyards, says, ‘This coming week the fun begins: Merlot and some Hillside Cabernet!’ Maayan Koschitzky reports that Quixote Winery will be bringing in SLD Petit Sirah by the end of the week. Michael Beaulac at Pine Ridge Winery will harvest some Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon from the hillsides around Wednesday. Marcus Notaro, winemaker at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, had brought in a taste of Cabernet Sauvignon from the upper slopes of Fay Vineyard and was ‘hoping the heat this weekend will get things rolling.’ Jon Emmerich, winemaker at Silverado Vineyards, said they would finally start processing some of their SLD Cabernet Sauvignon. Remi Cohen at Cliff Lede finished harvesting SLD Merlot and brought in their first Cabernet Sauvignon and they plan to bring in more Cabernet this week. At Chimney Rock, we should have hillside Merlot gracing our crush pad by mid-week and we are thrilled with the flavors in our North Hill Vineyard.”

Mount Veeder — Lorenzo Dalla Brea, Hess Collection — “Last week on Mount Veeder we saw the harvest of the last lot of Chardonnay as well as the Pinot Gris. Both grapes were picked at a sugar level of 25-26 Brix, still with a good acidity profile, typical of the grapes grown on this mountain. With temperatures rising in the higher 80s/lower 90s last week, maturity samples show, in general, an important increase in ripening and we are now planning for the harvest of Gruner Veltliner for mid/late of this week. The Estate Albarino is still quite high in acidity, and it is probably 5-10 days away from harvest based on the weather. On the red varieties side, estate Malbec is now averaging 22 Brix, while Cabernet Sauvignon is still in the low 20s. Harvest of red varieties on Mount Veeder usually begins in October, reaching its peak in the second half of the month. While every year is different, this year we share a general consensus that harvest could be later than average.”

Oak Knoll District – Jon Ruel, Trefethen Vineyards — “It definitely feels like fall, with sunny afternoons reaching into the 80s and chilly evenings getting down into the 40s. Picking continues across the OKD, with some overlap between the last of the early varieties and the first of the real reds. At Trefethen, we have already harvested all of our Cabernet Franc and we are continuing with Merlot this week.”

Coombsville — Tom Farella, Farella Vineyards — “The beautiful, perfect weather continues as harvest of red grapes approaches in earnest. Merlot is likely later this week and Cabernet, Malbec and Syrah are getting close, as well. Everything we have brought in so far has had great sugar/acidity profiles and the condition of the fruit has shown signs of a later harvest with little bits of damage here and there but nothing substantial. The quality is truly excellent across the board and now we hope the weather will hold out through October when we expect to see most of the reds come in.”

Carneros – Christopher Hyde, Hyde Vineyards — “Warm weather has finally arrived, in what has been a mostly cool growing season. In a region which typically is known for acid retention and cool climate fruit, this vintage will have especially good aging potential and high natural acidity. There are forecasts of rain on the horizon as we wrap up Pinot Noir harvest and move into later season red varieties.”

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.