The Cabernet Sauvignon harvest continues as most — but not all — growers report a light crop following two years of low rainfall.
"At Oakville Ranch, we began picking Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc from our earliest blocks for some of our winery clients last week, with initial yields down 15-20%," said Jennifer Rue of Oakville Ranch Vineyards. "It is the agonizing 'almost' part of harvest when 80% of our Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc sits at the tipping point when flavors are just about to come into focus and more hang time is gravy.
From Chiles Valley, Alexander Eisele reports "some of the earliest Cabernet picking on record," due in part to the effects of the drought.
Here’s this week's harvest report, organized by American Viticultural Area (AVA):
Matt Crafton, Chateau Montelena — “The vineyards have been lit up every night this week as consistently warm weather continues to push harvest forward. Thankfully, the offshore flow event this past Monday didn’t materialize into anything substantive. In general, harvest seems to be at least a week ahead of normal and in some cases up to two weeks. One surprise has been flavor development in Cabernet. The vines that have set the 'heaviest' crop (which isn’t much this year) seem to be much more in balance than their lower-yielding counterparts. I’m seeing signs of vine canopy senescence as some wineries in early-ripening areas are gearing up for the final push. Fast and furious. I’ll take it.”
Diamond Mountain District
Dawnine Dyer, Dyer Vineyard — "As with much of the Napa Valley, it’s not easy to summarize the 2021 season in the Diamond Mountain District. Yields are low but how low varies. Both Mueller Family and Andrew Geoffrey picked on Saturday. Mueller reports a fairly normal yield while Andrew Geoffrey is down 35-40%. Sugar accumulation has slowed over the last week providing time for acids and pHs to resolve. Based on that, Summit Vine has pushed their harvest back, extending the length of what once looked to be a protracted season. Small berries are nothing new on Diamond Mountain but this year, in some vineyards, they are tiny. As we move from the vineyard to the winery, winemakers are evaluating their fermentation strategies to match. If there’s a pattern it will emerge in the next couple of weeks."
Laura Barrett, Clif Family Winery — "It has been a relatively calm, consistent and steady week of harvest. Winemakers are busy and tanks are filling rapidly! We had a small threat of rain on Saturday that amounted to a gentle mist on parts of Howell Mountain. Otherwise, the weather has been uneventful, allowing vintners to keep a balanced flow of picking. Mike Dunn of Dunn Vineyards has picked more than half of his crop so far and reports 'great color, pH, and TA with low malic acid.' Danielle Cyrot of Cade said the quality of her Cabernet looks really great in 2021. Tannin and extraction seem to be a common talking point this week and everyone I spoke to is reporting good color, fast extraction and lots of tannin. 'Not anything unusual for Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon,' said Danielle. Looking forward to another pleasant week ahead, including my first pick at our Clif Family Cold Springs Vineyard!"
Chiles Valley District
Alexander Eisele, Volker Eisele Family Estate — "Harvest continues at a fairly rapid pace though there are some signs of a slowdown. Reports of the first Cabernet Sauvignon being harvested which may be some of the earliest Cabernet picking on record. The effects of the drought being one of the biggest contributing factors. Merlot and Cabernet Franc are being picked as well. Low yields, but great colors and flavors are being reported."
Spring Mountain District
Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone Winery — "The Spring Mountain District continues its individualism with the 2021 vintage. Frank Schaefer at York Creek Vineyards says 'it’s looking great' with a bumper crop, especially with their Zinfandel and Petite Sirah 'much higher than the 2019 vintage.' Yet many of us with Merlot and/or Cabernet Sauvignon are harvesting much smaller crops than normal. However, David Tate at Barnett brushes off the short crop because he is ecstatic about the quality and color extraction from the unusually small berries and low juice yields which we are all seeing. To the marketing dudes and dudettes, take notice of the short crop. Laura at Newton reports that they’ve finished their Chardonnay and are now moving into their reds. Continuing with this one-size-fits-none vibe, Ron Rosenbrand reports that Spring Mountain Vineyard is still waiting for their grapes to ripen, and yet Keenan, Schweiger and Smith-Madrone will finish this week."
Cathy Corison, Corison Winery — "Harvest is on the early side of normal this year. A cool August promoted great flavor development and firm natural acidity, followed by a moderate heat spike in early September that sped everything up. Many are expecting to finish picking Cabernet Sauvignon by the end of September! Everyone in St. Helena, including Rosemary Cakebread at Gallica and Pam Starr at Crocker Starr, is reporting inky color and delicious flavors. Here at Corison Winery we finished picking last week with our estate Kronos Vineyard. Yields are way down, due to scant rainfall and cold rainy weather during bloom last spring, but flavors are juicy and complex."
Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyard & Winery — "The past week at Honig has been a whirlwind of filling up fermenters with Cabernet Sauvignon, pressing out our first couple of red tanks and assembling the beginnings of our 2021 Sauvignon Blanc blend. With about 2/3 of our Cabernet in, we are impressed with the depth and character of the wines. The mostly cooler weather is giving us a second to catch up on life, do some laundry, contemplate when to press the next tanks, feel gratitude for everything that has gone so very right and prepare for the final few weeks of the adventure of the 2021 harvest."
Jennifer Rue, Oakville Ranch Vineyards — "As we head into the fifth week of harvest 2021, the promise of this vintage continues to grow, as does the eagerness to get the fruit safely to the winery. At Oakville Ranch, we began picking Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc from our earliest blocks for some of our winery clients last week, with initial yields down 15-20%. It is the agonizing 'almost' part of harvest when 80% of our Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc sits at the tipping point when flavors are just about to come into focus and more hang time is gravy. The window of opportunity to pick is opening, and the needle can move quickly in small-berried vintages. For now, we watch, wait, walk and taste."
Louis Kapcsandy Jr., Kapcsandy Family Winery — "Flavors and phenolics are progressing rapidly in the Cabernets, with acids staying bright and pyrazines fading under summer's last flash of moderate heat. Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot are arriving on crushpads around the clock and flood lights can be seen illuminating the midnight march to a reportedly glorious vintage. In healthy, established vineyard blocks, canopy leaves are surprisingly still dark green and shielding the clusters, which is an excellent indicator that the vines are handling the drought in formidable fashion. With Cabernets due to begin next week, there is significant excitement, buffered by intense activity in the cellars. The cooler weather predicted for the coming weekend and early October could very well seal the deal on another monumental vintage for our humble valley."
Joel Antonio, Alpha Omega — Cordes Vineyard — "This past week, we finished picking Cabernet Sauvignon at our Cordes Vineyard, making it the first vineyard in our single vineyard program that we completed harvesting this vintage. The fruit is beautiful! There was so much fog during the last of our three picks. The first night it was 68 degrees, and the next night 55 degrees before dropping to 48 degrees the final night, giving us three different environments in three nights. Last week’s colder temperatures mean the vines will hold longer, there won’t be shriveling or dehydration and the sugar accumulation will slow. The tannins are still ripening at some of the vineyards on Atlas Peak. The yield is down about 25 percent, and everyone is expected to wrap harvest early. To compare, in 2019, our last pick at Cordes was on Nov. 5. We still have Petit Verdot hanging, and it’s looking really good."
Stags Leap District
Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock Winery — "In Stags Leap District, the rhythms of harvest slowed down slightly with the recent cool down. At Shafer Vineyards, winemaker Elias Fernandez, is all finished with Merlot and about halfway through hillside Cabernet Sauvignon. He was planning a slowdown over this past weekend and will continue harvesting around mid-week. Jon Emmerich, winemaker at Silverado Vineyards, reports they had harvested around 60 tons of Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon and they were picking some small blocks on the property while they wait for other blocks. Josh Widaman, winemaker at Pine Ridge, reports that they are about one-third through their 47 acres of SLD. Malbec is in, along with some terraced Cabernet Sauvignon while they, too, wait for other blocks to ripen to perfection. Marcus Notaro, winemaker at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, had started picking from the upper slopes of Fay Vineyard and heading back into those hillsides after a weekend lull. 'Kind of a slow ramp up, but things look excellent, canopies are in great shape and the fruit weathered the little Labor Day heat event without incident,' he reports. At Chimney Rock, we will add a few tanks this week with our Alpine Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, while we wait for most of our estate Cabernet Sauvignon to arrive. The upcoming warming trend should be just the push we need to ramp up. We are ready!"
Oak Knoll District
Tres Goetting, Robert Biale Vineyards — "Last week really kicked things into high gear for us at Robert Biale Winery as both of our estate vineyards were harvested. Our Zinfandel vineyard which surrounds the winery came in at an average yield and exceptional quality. I am very happy with the color and flavor profiles of these wines. Our original estate vineyard located at North Jefferson Street and El Centro also came in this week. We saw very low yields from this vineyard due to the fact that it is Old Vine (1937), head pruned and dry farmed. We expected this in a drought year. The good news is that the small berries and clusters have provided incredible intensity and quality. I just wish there was more of it!"
Lorenzo Dalla Brea, Hess Collection — "This week vineyard crews will be harvesting Cabernet Sauvignon from our estate ranch Veeder Hills as well as Malbec from both our Veeder Crest and Veeder Summit ranches. With yields significantly lower than historical averages, ripening sped up significantly in the last week. While tasting with winemakers last week, we all agreed that this year will be remembered as one of a kind, with a quick harvest and great flavor."
Tom Farella, Farella Vineyard — "Up and down weather over the last week shows the changing patterns of harvest season weather. We didn’t receive any rain last week, though it felt like winter couldn’t be far away. Now, temps are warming with light offshore flow and the vines are sure to respond as we creep closer to harvesting Cabernet in Coombsville. A small amount of red grapes have been harvested and all the white grapes are safely in the wineries but the bigger days should get going by the end of the week. Merlot is very close and acids seem to be holding as the sugar creeps up, Cabernet not far behind. We are still on track for relatively normal harvest timing, something that feels surprising with drought and climate change looming all over. Napa Valley remains moderated by our wonderful geographic location."
Christopher Hyde, Hyde Vineyards — "At Hyde Vineyards, Carneros, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir harvest came to a close on Friday. Yields were the lowest on record, but the resulting fruit is concentrated, in beautiful condition, and will produce wines of incredible quality. The first of our Syrah and Merlot was picked here last week also, with only about two weeks projected to be left for the 2021 wine grape harvest."
For real-time harvest photos and updates, visit the Napa Valley Vintners’ Harvest 2021 website at harvestnapa.com.