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Napa Valley harvest report: Light, early harvest underway
Napa Valley harvest report

Napa Valley harvest report: Light, early harvest underway

From the Napa Valley Wine Insider Digest: Sept. 4, 2020 series
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Mondavi Fire

Smoke from the Mondavi Fire was visible from vineyards on Walnut Lane in Oakville on Aug. 20. The fire was contained at five acres. Growers are hopeful that smoke from the recent fires will not affect the quality of their grapes.

A light and early harvest is underway in the Napa Valley.

“Our clusters are a bit on the small side this year, but the grapes are full of flavor,” said Richard Lenney of Prager Port Works. “We anticipate these smaller dense grapes to contribute intensity, beautiful dark colors, and rich flavors.”

The Sauvignon Blanc harvest is well underway and in some cases done, and growers in the Stags Leap District are even bringing in some Cabernet Sauvignon this week.

“Grape quality is looking excellent; however, crop levels are all over the board and range from half of last year to larger than normal,” said Stuart Smith of Smith-Madrone Winery. “We’ve all got our fingers crossed the air will clear and the smoke will not be an issue.”

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

Calistoga — Matt Crafton, Chateau Montelena — “The vineyards in Calistoga have been quiet thus far this week, with isolated picks of the few remaining white grapes trickling out to wineries. At Montelena, with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc fully harvested, our attention has turned to the hillsides, to the low-yielding Cabernet vines planted in volcanic ash. The fruit here tends to ripen early. So, to paraphrase Patton, we’re diligently working to build and execute a good plan right now, amidst the continued uncertainty as the fruit continues to mature. The relief from heat this weekend was indeed welcome, buying us a measure of time to assess the lingering effects of smoke and thus the potential of the vintage.”

Howell Mountain — Laura Barrett, Clif Family Winery — “On Howell Mountain, residents and winery owners were happy to return to their homes and businesses this week, thankful that the fire did not enter our AVA. While harvest is well underway on the valley floor with many whites and Pinots, our Cabernet-focused mountain still remains in ripening mode with little to no grapes being picked. At Clif Family Winery, I have one early block of Zinfandel that is pretty sweet and I anticipate an earlier than normal harvest at this particular site. Overall, winemakers are collaborating about this strange year and season, and brainstorming together on how to navigate the challenges we’ve faced.”

Diamond Mountain District — Dawnine Dyer, Dyer Vineyards — “Like clockwork, Von Strasser officially kicked off harvest 2020 on Diamond Mountain when they picked their Gruener Veltliner on Aug 8. Then, just when we were getting our arms around COVID-19 protocols for harvest, we got the light show from hell followed by a frightening view of the LNU fire. Kevin Vecchiarelli, evacuated from his home, has moved into the Constant Winery where he is keeping an eye on the vineyards and anticipates picking Chardonnay next week. Rob Loyd at Vineyard 29 says ‘the harvest is going to be light and early and no one is arguing with him!’”

Spring Mountain District — Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone Winery — “It’s not been all quiet on the Mountain. Stony Hill has finished with their Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer. School House also finished their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and Smith-Madrone is waiting until they can finish their Chardonnay. Cain Cellars has picked a small block each of Merlot and Malbec. Keenan, Schweiger and Spring Mountain Vineyard are looking to start later this week or very early next week. Grape quality is looking excellent; however, crop levels are all over the board and range from half of last year to larger than normal. We’ve all got our fingers crossed the air will clear and the smoke will not be an issue.”

St. Helena — Richard Lenney, Prager Port Works — “First we would like to acknowledge the local firefighters, as well as those from all over California, and from around the world, who have been on the front lines for many days fighting to protect the homes and business of the Napa Valley. We are forever grateful.

“The 2020 growing season started early and has been consistently warm. This combination of factors has brought our Paladini Vineyard Petite Sirah to ripeness earlier than average, and we expect to harvest this week. Our clusters are a bit on the small side this year, but the grapes are full of flavor. We anticipate these smaller dense grapes to contribute intensity, beautiful dark colors, and rich flavors. This Petite Sirah will be used in several of our Ports.”

Rutherford — Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyard & Winery — “As we enter the third week of harvest, we have rolled into a steady rhythm of grapes arriving at the winery, pressing, racking settled juice off heavy lees and getting new tanks fermenting. Tasting through the fermenting lots now takes well over an hour and thus far, the Sauvignon Blanc appears to have come though the previous weeks events unscathed. Much of the Rutherford appellation Sauvignon Blanc has been brought in and Sauvignon Blanc harvest in this part of the valley will likely be wrapped up by the end of the week. We might just get a little rest before we start in on the reds.”

Oakville — Jennifer Rue, Oakville Ranch Vineyards — “The return of the marine layer and cooler temperatures tapped the brakes on white grape harvest here in Oakville as vines recovered and relaxed after the extended heat storm. The week saw Brix stabilizing and acid holding allowing seed and flavor development to catch up which will ultimately result in more complex, flavorful wines. Some blocks scheduled to pick early this week have been postponed to later in the week or even early next week. More importantly, these same favorable conditions helped support a drastic improvement in fire containment, this combined with stories of the heroic efforts of fire crews leaves us hopeful the worst is behind us.”

Stags Leap District — Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock Winery — “The past week was a harvest waiting game for most producers in Stags Leap District — welcoming more moderate temperatures. Michael Beaulac, winemaker at Pine Ridge, was bringing in some Cabernet Sauvignon off their Estate, the first in our AVA this week. Elias Fernandez, winemaker at Shafer Vineyards, had not yet started, but had plans to possibly bring in some young vine Syrah or Hillside Cabernet later in the week. Jon Emmerich, winemaker at Silverado Vineyards, was very busy bottling and ‘roaring through harvest,’ having finished whites and possibly moving into some SLD Cabernet Sauvignon this Friday. At Chimney Rock, we wait as our Hillside Merlot is starting to get close. Labor Day could bring us the first red fruit to our crush pad.”

Mount Veeder – Lorenzo Dalla Brea, Hess Collection — “After the heat wave we experienced mid-August, the cooler temperatures this past week are helping our vines to recover. We are forecasting temperatures ideal for ripening our grapes and are monitoring sugar development in the field for most of the varieties.

“Mount Veeder Chardonnay is moving along with sugar accumulation, but we are still two to three weeks away from harvest. Estate Albariño is at about the same sugar level as the Chardonnay, with clusters still pretty green, a typical trait of the variety.”

Oak Knoll District — Jon Ruel, Trefethen Vineyards & Winery — “Growers and wineries here are quite active, picking the early ripening varieties at earlier than usual dates. Gary Luchtel brought in some Chardonnay last week, with their Syrah for rosé expected soon. He said the ‘quality seems very high.’ At Trefethen, we have already wrapped up our Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling and we are more than half-way done with Chardonnay. The relatively dry winter and warm growing season have provided for smaller grapes with great flavors and balanced chemistry.”

Coombsville — Tom Farella, Farella Vineyard — “Things are getting to a slow start still here in Coombsville. We harvested half of our Sauvignon Blanc with the second half this week. The red grapes still are a ways off and concerns about smoke remain, though grape samples still coming out as negative for taint issues. The milder weather is quite welcome but more heat is on the way later in the week so there is momentum to get things rolling. It’s easy to forget how nicely this vintage was setting up before the fires and now we are hoping to turn the corner and pick up where we left off.”

Carneros — Christopher Hyde, Hyde Vineyards — “Harvest for some growers in Carneros is wrapped up, and for others has just begun. Here at Hyde Vineyards, we are approaching the halfway point, with Pinot Noir harvest nearing completion and Sauvignon Blanc all picked. The warm weather accelerated ripening, and we are an entire three weeks earlier than last year. Though the crop is a bit smaller than it has been the past few years, so far this looks to be a vintage of exceptional quality and concentration.”

Watch Now: Hennessey Fire as seen from Nichelini Family Winery in St. Helena

For real-time harvest photos and updates, visit the Napa Valley Vintners’ Harvest 2019 website at harvestnapa.com.

For real-time harvest photos and updates, visit the Napa Valley Vintners’ Harvest 2019 website at harvestnapa.com.

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