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Malbec grapes from J.Davies

The harvest of Napa Valley reds has begun in some appellations, with last week’s heat wave hastening the ripening process.

“Flavors and sugars came on quick in the red varieties, so we are in the unusual position of picking some merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon during the same week as some riesling and chardonnay,” reported Jon Ruel of Trefethen Vineyards & Winery.

Domenica Totty of Beaulieu Vineyards noted a similar anomaly. She said this is the first time she has started harvesting cabernet before all the chardonnay is in.

Here is the latest installment of the 2013 harvest report, organized by American Viticultural Areas:

Calistoga — Paul Smith, Vermeil Wines at OnThEdge Winery — “With our recent heat, Calistoga will be moving into the reds this week. Merlot and earlier petite sirah and zinfandel have good numbers, smacky flavors and deep colors. And this week’s forecast return to the monotonously perfect sub-90s should settle these earlier flavors into a steady harvest pace while the cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc continue to hang.”

Diamond Mountain District — Dawnine Dyer, Dyer Vineyards — “The heat this week jump-started the first wave of harvest on Diamond Mountain. Malbec and the little bit of merlot on the mountain are coming in this week, and the earliest cabs will be in the winery by the end of the week — sugars reportedly spiking to 26 and 27 Brix on some sites.  Most of the cab is still reported under 23 Brix, and the vines are handling the heat well.”

Howell Mountain — Pat Stotesbery, Ladera Vineyards — “With the heat, everything has moved considerably. Some folks on the mountain report that they will be picking some merlot and malbec this week. Others are starting to gear up for cabernet; although that is still the minority at this point. The talk is that it is all going to come in at one time. We’ll see as the next week will tell the tale.”

Chiles Valley District — Volker Eisele, Eisele Vineyards — “The harvest promises to be much larger than anticipated. So far yields, especially on sauvignon blanc and semillon, are easily 30 percent above last year, yet the quality seems to be even better than last year. Cabernet sauvignon is sugaring up very well. Some hillsides report 23 degree Brix. However, the seeds are still green, the pHs are still very low around 3.1, and the acidity is still very high. In spite of the drought conditions, the vines look very good and healthy, and not the least bit stressed. We will need massive rainfall during the coming winter.”

Spring Mountain District — Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone Winery — “Little on Spring Mountain lends itself to generalization. Stony Hill, Spring Mountain winery and Smith-Madrone are all finished with their whites. Many of us are harvesting cabernet and a little merlot. Schweiger may start by week’s end. Cain starts this week with merlot, yet Keenan is waiting on merlot, but starting cabernet. Crop levels are modest and the grapes are holding their own in this heat. Cabernet is on par with last year’s crop, which for the mountain was down from our historical averages. It is a very early harvest for the reds.”

St. Helena — Pam Starr, Crocker & Starr Winery — “Summer has finally arrived just as we are approaching fall. This past week of warmer weather, well into the high 90s, is promoting the final preparation of skin and seed development for the big reds. These temperatures have brought true ripeness to our malbec and merlot, which will be picked this Thursday. After several clear mornings, we anticipate the morning fog to return, allowing remaining clusters luxurious hang time.”

Rutherford — Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyards & Winery — “It has been a busy week here in Rutherford! At Honig, we will be wrapping up our Rutherford sauvignon blanc tomorrow and received our first reds this morning. Whatever happened to that nice little lull between whites and reds? The reds, for us, are a full three weeks earlier than last year! The vineyards seem to have weathered the late summer heat well and the fruit looks great.

“Sara Fowler at Peju reports that she will be harvesting her first Rutherford fruit on Friday (merlot). At Beaulieu Vineyards, Jeffery Stambor says, ‘We’re starting merlot on Monday (Sept. 9) and we’ll see cab by the end of the week. So far looks and tastes great.’ And Domenica Totty, also of Beaulieu Vineyards, said that this is the first time she has harvested cabernet before all of the chardonnay was in.”

Oakville — Molly Hodgins, Flora Springs Winery — “Things are getting busy. Last weekend’s heat wave sped things up considerably. Now nearly all of our grapes have reached sugar maturity, but in many cases winemakers would like to taste a little more flavor before picking. That being said, we are harvesting everyday this week. Merlot, which typically matures a couple of weeks earlier than other red Bordeaux varieties, is ready, as are our earliest cabernet sauvignon blocks.”

Stags Leap District — Elizabeth Vianna, winemaker, Chimney Rock Winery — “We are about to fasten our seat belts in Stags Leap District. A healthy heat wave over the weekend has moved flavors right along. Kristy Melton, winemaker at Clos Du Val, has harvested some SLD merlot and cabernet franc, but this week should really get things moving. At Shafer Vineyards, Elias Fernandez was busy with SLD merlot and has already begun harvesting his hillside cabernet sauvignon. Michael Beaulac (Pine Ridge) and Remi Cohen (Cliff Lede Vineyards) report that malbec has arrived and some early cabernet sauvignon blocks will be in midweek. All are pleased with yields and quality so far. At Chimney Rock, we’ll continue crushing merlot this week, and there is a slight possibility that one of our hillside cabernet blocks will come in by the end of the week.”

Atlas Peak — Jan Krupp, Stagecoach Vineyards — “Harvest on Atlas Peak is still white varietal-focused, with a few intrepid wineries beginning to dabble in reds. Sugars have elevated quickly due to the recent heat wave. Cabernet sauvignon berries are small as opposed to large syrah berries and large merlot clusters this year.”

Mount Veeder — Brian Nuss, Vinoce Vineyards/Twenty Rows — “Here is some news from around the Appellation:

“Yates Family: Things are happening quicker than we thought. Our viognier is getting really close and a small amount of chardonnay went last week. Cab seems to be ahead of merlot and cab franc, which is very rare. Cab samples are into 24 Brix in some blocks already. Seeds are getting ripe and flavors are good. Vines are in good shape for the season and anticipating a good harvest. Would like a break in the heat.

“Rudd: The morning inversion layer is immediately apparent this week, with a warm, dry breeze in the vines. This has accelerated ripening and flavor development. The whites that have come in are generally very aromatic, with crisp mouthfeel and fresh acidity. I am expecting the first reds by the end of the week. The merlot, in particular, has very small berries, ripe seeds and inky color.

“Lagier Meredith: Planning to pick our zinfandel and half of our syrah on Thursday. Glad the weekend heat spike was not an extreme one. And also very glad that the smoke from the Mount Diablo and Schellville fires stayed away from Napa!”

Oak Knoll District — Jon Ruel, Trefethen Vineyards & Winery — “Warm weather over last weekend kept the grapes moving along, and we are picking actively. Flavors and sugars came on quick in the red varieties, so we are in the unusual position of picking some merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon during the same week as some riesling and chardonnay. Luckily, not all blocks are ready at the same time so we expect to work around the ranch during the weeks to come, keeping up a steady pace.”

Carneros — Lee Hudson, Hudson Vineyards — “Carneros has been alight this last week with steady picking of pinot noir and chardonnay. The heat of the last three days has provided a good finishing touch with most of the pinot noir and chardonnay either picked or scheduled to be picked. This week we’ll see the beginnings of merlot and then syrah. This year’s mild weather has been very accommodating and has allowed for a continuous and orderly harvest. The harvest is very early with good yields, great flavors and exceptional balance; 2013 is another fantastic year.”

Wild Horse Valley — John Newmeyer, Heron Lake Vineyard — “Up here in Wild Horse Valley we expect our wine grapes to ripen a week or two later than most other Napa area vineyards, often not until October. Not this year! Our pinot noir was all in by Monday, with average Brix just above 24 and very ripe flavors. Only the chardonnay remains, and all of it is well above 22 Brix. Everything could be in by my next report!”

Coombsville — Ken Bernards, Ancien Wines — “We are now two weeks into our 2013 harvest, and things continue to move along at a nice pace. We picked chardonnay at the beginning of the week and look to bring in some syrah and some merlot by the end of the week. Several sites of those varietals seem to indicate that they are quite close to the right ripeness. Cabernet sauvignon, however, in this part of the valley could easily be two weeks off. Even with the recent heat, the vines continue to function extremely well. All across Coombsville the vines appear healthy and continue to ripen the grapes evenly. In a sense, that seems to be the hallmark of this vintage, one in which the vines have functioned healthily throughout their ripening season. Although July and August were historically cool in Coombsville, the vines continued to plug away and harvest arrived early. Even in the face of this late heat, the health and strength of the vines seems to trump the heat, and ripening continues at a similarly even pace. In other words, an early harvest doesn’t necessarily indicate a warm vintage — the vines keep their own time. The first pinot noirs are nearly dry, and we will press them by the week’s end.”


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