Grapegrowers remain optimistic this week as harvest approaches its climax.
“Our yields are lower than last year — berry size is smaller — and that means lots of beautiful flavor and color in the fruit,” said Elizabeth Vianna of Chimney Rock Winery.
Steve Moulds is calling 2019 the classic “Goldilocks” vintage.
“Overall it looks as if most growers are two-plus weeks behind last year,” said Alexander Eisele of Volker Eisele Family Estate in Chiles Valley. “Vines look healthy and look to be able to absorb the extended hang time.”
Here’s this week’s harvest report, organized by American Viticultural Area (AVA):
Calistoga — Matt Crafton, Chateau Montelena — “Cold nights this past week with fruit temperatures dropping into the mid-30s before sunrise. Aside from the slow start each day, flavors both on the vine and in tank have been outstanding. The May rains seem to have plumped up our berries a bit and we’re seeing the results with higher than normal yields at the press. It seems like most wineries are running at or near full throttle as crush pads have stayed illuminated until the wee hours. Many of us in Calistoga are more than halfway through, but a quick drive down 29 reveals plenty left to pick.”
Howell Mountain — Laura Barrett, Clif Family Winery — “Lots of Zinfandel was picked last week on Howell Mountain, including both Lamborn Family Vineyard and Summit Lake Vineyard. Brian Brakesman reports amazing fruit quality with firm berries, very little shrivel and plenty of natural acidity. After the recent warm up, this week continues with a full schedule of Cabernet picks. But, with another batch of cool and clear weather on the horizon, there is still lots of hang time left for those cooler sites and later blocks. We are cautiously optimistic as 2019 shapes up to be a near-perfect finish to the season.”
Diamond Mountain District — Dawnine Dyer, Dyer Vineyards — “Looking at another week of warm weather this time with dry, offshore winds, picking is starting to be a daily event on Diamond Mountain. At the higher elevations, Constant reports that temperatures dropped to 34 degrees for a few nights and that has triggered senescence, the end-of-season yellowing of leaves, particularly in their Syrah. It will be picked this week, as will the Merlot. Sterling has picked Cab Franc. Both are looking to the week of Oct. 14 for the bulk of their Cabernet Sauvignon. Mid-mountain, Von Strasser continues to pick at Sori Bricco and has added Monhof. Dyer picked their Cabernet field blend on Sunday and Mueller Vineyard picked Monday. Everyone who has picked is happy with the quality and quantity — loads of sugars with less raisin than in recent years, good color extraction and very clean fruit.”
Chiles Valley District — Alexander Eisele, Volker Eisele Family Estate — “Cold cold nights, close to frost, followed by some nice warm days and 50-degree nights — a true roller coaster for the farmers! Zinfandel is continuing to be harvested steadily and the first Cabernet Sauvignon is being picked, beautiful clusters with wonderful flavors. Overall it looks as if most growers are two-plus weeks behind last year. Vines look healthy and look to be able to absorb the extended hang time.”
Spring Mountain District — Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone — “Mother Nature simply couldn’t provide more perfect weather than what we’ve been having these last several weeks. Cool nights followed by bright clear days in the mid-70s for highs. These modest temperatures have not been stopping grape maturity at all. As we harvest the reds, many of us have been seeing much more second crop than in years past. If there is one commonality in the Spring Mountain AVA it is that there is no commonality. School House has finished, Keenan, Cain and Smith-Madrone are charging toward the finish line, while Stony Hill, Paloma and 7 & 8 are still waiting to start with their reds and Sherwin has just barely scratched the surface with their reds. Schweiger Vineyards are seeing larger than normal yields, while many others are seeing 10 to 20 percent declines from last year’s harvest.”
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St. Helena — Torey Battuello, Battuello Vineyards — “This week at Battuello Vineyards in St. Helena we are just beginning to pick our Cabernet Sauvignon. The mild summer weather led to a slightly later harvest season but is producing high-quality fruit. Current weather conditions are still in our favor and should continue to allow the remaining fruit to mature to optimal flavor over the next week or two. It is shaping up to be an excellent vintage in the making.”
Rutherford — Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyard & Winery — “Warm dry weather and cool nights are bringing out fall colors everywhere. We pressed out our first two Cabernet Sauvignon tanks today. They are lovely, fruit-forward, inky wines. This vintage is showing great promise and the weather appears to be cooperating, with the continued pattern of warm days, cool nights and no extended heat waves or rain in the forecast. We may bring in some estate Petit Verdot this week and our estate Cabernet continues to look particularly splendid. While Rutherford red varietals are still mostly on the vine and ripening ever so nicely, we are moving ever so quickly into pumpkins and soup weather and the last few weeks of the 2019 harvest.”
Oakville — Jennifer Rue, Oakville Ranch Vineyards — “A string of absolutely gorgeous days has brought a steady as she goes pace to ripening. After a trio of more summer-like days, the action is picking up. Crisscrossing Oakville, more vines sit newly picked each day. We’ve entered into Hang Time, that period where most blocks are pretty much there but hanging out for that last touch of development. As always, eyes are on canopies and the forecast. For now, the window appears open and broad. We’ll be firmly in the crescendo of harvest by this weekend where we find ourselves occupied with all the tasks of harvest at once. From draining and pressing tanks to make room for more grapes, to barreling down new wines and seeing some white ferments go dry, officially becoming the first wines of 2019.”
Atlas Peak — Mark Castaldi, Acumen Wines — “Harvest for major red varietals is well underway with more picks lining up for this week and next and sugar levels at or near 25 Brix in several blocks. With the low humidity and red flag conditions forecast for mid-week, growers are keeping a sharp eye on conditions looking for advanced stages of berry shriveling and dehydration. Chemistry and berry integrity are holding well at the moment, however, and we expect to make it through the coming week despite potential frost alerts by Friday in the cooler growing pockets.”
Stags Leap District — Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock Winery — “Winemakers and vineyard managers were very busy in the Stags Leap District AVA this past week. Michael Beaulac, winemaker at Pine Ridge Vineyards, is almost finished harvesting his SLD fruit with only some Malbec left to harvest. Elias Fernandez, winemaker at Shafer Vineyards, will be completing his SLD Merlot this week and was bringing in some hillside Cabernet as well. At Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Marcus Notaro reports that they are now harvesting Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc from the upper slopes of Fay Vineyard and picking Cabernet Franc on some lower areas as well. At Chimney Rock, we are busy too, working mostly on Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Our beloved hillsides of Cabernet Sauvignon will likely be getting there any moment. Our yields are lower than last year — berry size is smaller — and that means lots of beautiful flavor and color in the fruit.”
Mount Veeder – Lorenzo Dalla Brea, Hess Collection — “So far, harvest on Mount Veeder has been intermittent, with only four days of pick for our white varieties. Mild days and cold nights last week led to slow ripening of grapes, with most Brix readings reported in the mid-20s. This week we will finish harvesting our white varietals, with the final pick being Albariño. Our Estate Syrah is scheduled to be harvested later in the week, as well as an early ripening block of Cabernet Sauvignon. As we near mid-October, this week will be crucial for the ripening of our red fruit, and we anticipate next week signaling peak harvest season on Mount Veeder.”
Oak Knoll District — Jon Ruel, Trefethen Vineyards — “Across the OKD, the grapes continue to come off the vine in a timely fashion, with the spring-time prediction of a ‘late’ harvest feeling like a distant memory. Tres Goetting, at Robert Biale Vineyards, says all their OKD fruit is in and reports ‘outstanding’ flavors and ‘well-behaved fermentations.’ Steve Moulds, who grows Cabernet Sauvignon for a number of winery partners, is calling 2019 a classic ‘Goldilocks’ vintage and expects to wrap up this week. Steve Matthiasson is also finishing his OKD Cabernet and is equally excited about the vintage, which he says reminds him of 2012. He noted the fine weather, the crop size being ‘not too big, not too small’ and is expecting wines with ‘soft tannins and beautiful flavors.’ Scott Meadows at Silenus says they’ve picked their Cabernet Franc and some Cabernet Sauvignon although a few blocks are still hanging, developing great flavors.”
Coombsville — Tom Farella, Farella Vineyard — “Harvest finally got rolling with Cabernet this week after staying in a holding pattern that persisted for a few weeks. The vines seemed to really respond to the latest warm weather over the weekend and suddenly things have become very active. With another offshore-flow event the middle of this week, it will be a bit of a scramble for all the Cabernet that was on the bubble. Nighttime activity in the vineyards is now prevalent with little islands of lights dotted around the landscape taking advantage of cooler night temperatures. We are hoping this ripening trend will continue so we can get it all in soon.”
Carneros — Christopher Hyde, Hyde Vineyards — “At Hyde Vineyard in Carneros we are 80% of the way through harvest, and harvested our first Cabernet Sauvignon this morning. There remains some Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Semillon and Zinfandel still on the vine. With the warm weather, we will get closer to the finish line, as we wind down what has been another relatively large yielding and high quality vintage.”
For real-time harvest photos and updates, visit the Napa Valley Vintners’ Harvest 2019 website at harvestnapa.com.