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Harvest report: Low yields, high quality


Among the workers helping with this year's harvest is Pedro Nevarez, front, who's in his 35th harvest with Volker Eisele Family Estate.

The harvest of white grapes like sauvignon blanc is nearing completion in some parts of the Napa Valley, according to harvest correspondents.

Cabernet sauvignon is still at least a few weeks away from being ready, but growers say sugar levels were boosted by the recent heat wave. Growers were relieved to see a return to cooler temperatures.

Despite low yields, quality is reported to be high, and growers are optimistic.

“Our vines have weathered the drought well and we just need them to get through the final stretch,” said Matt Crafton of Chateau Montelena. “Perfect ripening weather is on tap for the rest of the week, a great sign as we close out a busy August.”

“The crop will be small, but the grapes’ high skin-to-juice ratios augurs complex fruit flavors,” added John Newmeyer of Heron Lake Vineyard.

Here’s the next installment of the 2015 harvest report, organized by American Viticultural Areas:

Calistoga — Matt Crafton, Chateau Montelena – “As expected, the mild weather pattern that developed toward the end of last week was just the ticket to kick off the cabernet harvest on the hillsides. Short harvests tend to get shorter and our picks have been light overall. Activity around Calistoga seems to have followed suit as crews have been active on the warmer, southeast corner of the AVA and most if not all of the white grapes still hanging were off the vine by the weekend. As nighttime lows move into the mid-50s, we’re cautiously watching flavor development and vine stress, especially in the dry-farmed blocks.”

Howell Mountain — Pat Stotesbery, Ladera Vineyards – “As mentioned last week, sauvignon blanc is being actively picked and should be complete by the end of this week. Beyond that there is not much to report as no one I talked to were anywhere near picking anything red. It is likely to be weeks before we see much activity on the red front, so it is all about letting the good weather do its thing as the forecast looks perfect. People are anxious to pick but no one wants to jump the gun and miss ripeness.”

Diamond Mountain District — Dawnine Dyer, Dyer Vineyards — “Vineyards on Diamond Mountain can be divided into two camps — those that finished bloom before the cool weather in May and those that didn’t finish bloom until early June. Those on the earlier track, north-facing slopes and young vineyards, are rapidly approaching full maturity, while those on the later track are still two to three weeks away. Overall crops look smaller than normal, not unexpected given the drought and three years of fairly large crops, but those who endured the extended bloom during May are seeing an additional reduction in crop size from shatter and pour set. Small crops are prone to faster ripening so growers all over the mountain are starting to pay attention.”

Chiles Valley District — Alexander Eisele, Volker Eisele Family Estate – “The past week saw more sauvignon blanc and semillon being harvested as well as the first zinfandel from the hillsides. Excellent sugar/acid balances. Yields from all varietals harvested thus far are down though quality looks good. The first petit syrah will be harvested at the end of the week. The milder temperatures the last several days were welcomed, and gave many the opportunity to do a little more thinning of the later varietals such as cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. Approximately a 40-degree swing between daytime and nighttime temperatures.”

Spring Mountain District — Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone Winery — “Harvest is slowly picking up speed. Being lower on the mountain, Spring Mountain Winery has finished their sauvignon blanc, semillon and pinot noir and are deep into their chardonnay with slightly lower crops. School House has also finished their chardonnay and pinot noir. Stony Hill has finished both their chardonnay and gewurztraminer and is waiting on their riesling. Smith-Madrone has started on both chardonnay and riesling, and Keenan will start this Friday with chardonnay. The reds are still weeks away. Early reports are that juice chemistry and quality are excellent. For those of us with vines that bloomed during May it may be some of the worst shatter any of us have ever seen.”

St. Helena — Kristy Melton, Varozza Vineyard — “Harvest is well underway in St. Helena this week. Whites are rapidly arriving in most wineries with initial quality looking excellent. The recent heat spike seemed to accelerate ripening in some varieties with many of us seeing elevated Brix that will hopefully level out with the cooling trend. Some early ripening blocks of cabernet franc and zinfandel have started to be picked, but the majority of cabernet sauvignon and other reds are still a number of weeks out.”

Rutherford — Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyard & Winery — “The weekend heat spike surged sauvignon blanc harvest into a brisk pace. We have been receiving fruit every day and are scheduled well into the upcoming week. The heat was thankfully short-lived and the weather returned to classic Napa Valley grapegrowing weather with warm afternoons and cool evenings. Ripening everywhere seems to be progressing nicely as both fruit and vines appear to have tolerated the heat well. Marisa Taylor, winemaker at Rutherford Hill Winery, was bringing in Rutherford sauvignon blanc on Thursday, Aug. 20. She says, ‘The fruit looks great. Crop yields are lighter like the trend seems to be this year. Little/no sunburn. Tastes great.’ She also noted that ‘cab on hillside pushing 23 Brix and valley floor 19.5.’ Hmm. Will we be seeing some reds before the end of the month?”

Oakville — Molly Hodgins, Flora Springs Winery — “This week we are in something of a lull. We are finishing up our sauvignon blanc harvest in Oakville, but nothing else is ready for picking just yet. This seasonable, not too hot, not too cool, weather is great for slow ripening, and slow ripening is great for quality and balance, but not great when you want to get going already. … Soon enough we’ll be busy harvesting again. Both our Oakville merlot and chardonnay are hovering near ripeness. Until then we are prepping the blocks we already picked for dormancy and the 2016 season: spreading compost and cover crop seed.”

Yountville — Anthony Bell, Bell Wine Cellars – “Sauvignon blanc has come in looking lovely, while the chardonnay continues its slow progress to maturity. Sugars slowly rising with chilly night temperatures dropping into the high 50s. Some raisining seen in clusters due to the recent daytime heat and drought stress. Reds still hanging and developing. Merlot developing more flavor but still several weeks out.”

Atlas Peak — Jan Krupp, Stagecoach Vineyards – “After the heat wave 10 days ago, Atlas Peak settled down to cooler weather beginning with foggy mornings, which are atypical for our appellation. This change in the weather will result in longer hang time. Harvest will probably start sometime next week on the Peak.”

Stags Leap District — Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock Winery – “Checking in with our friends at Shafer Vineyards, winemaker Elias Fernandez told me that it is possible he might harvest some hillside fruit this week. Over at Cliff Lede Vineyards, Remi Cohen tells me that they might be harvesting some merlot this week. ‘This will make it the earliest harvest in our history for Bordeaux red varieties,’ Remi added. She is also very optimistic about the quality in spite of the slightly below-average yields. At Chimney Rock, our merlot blocks are getting close and I predict that by early next week we should see our first red grapes on the crush pad. I cannot deny we are thrilled with the potential quality of the vintage as well.”

Mount Veeder — Sander Scheer, The Hess Collection Winery – “Can’t complain about the weather we have experienced for the last couple of days up here. Fruit looks great. Our maturity sampling efforts are kicking into high gear now. The goal for the moment is to gather enough data to start to predict how all of our fruit will come into the winery. Whites look like they’ll be two weeks early and reds maybe a week. We’ve also started with cover crop seeding and putting plans together for the winterization of our vineyards. Hoping that the first fall rains come in light to give our cover crops a chance to grow a bit before major rain. Best to get this done now before harvest hits! This El Nino thing is beginning to look very real.”

Oak Knoll District — Jon Ruel, Trefethen Vineyards & Winery — “The mild weather over the past week allowed us to catch our breath. The earliest blocks have been picked and while others are nearly ready, there is now less urgency. Flavors continue to develop while sugar content increases slowly. Lighter blocks of merlot and cabernet franc may actually come in while we are still picking chardonnay.”

Coombsville — Don Baker, Sciandri Family Vineyards — As of Aug. 19: “Not much to report from Coombsville. Most vineyards are just finishing up veraison, with Brix hanging around 19 to 21. A few growers are expecting an early harvest, even earlier than last year! Now that the weather is cooling down a bit, I would expect to report an increase in activity among the white varieties by next week.”

Carneros — Lee Hudson, Hudson Vineyards – “With last weekend’s warm weather, the 2015 harvest here in Carneros got off to a bang. We harvested chardonnay and pinot noir every day last week. The quality is very high, yields are about 20 percent off, and acids are perfect with sugars running at desirable levels. A very pleasing beginning with near-perfect conditions.”

Wild Horse Valley —John Newmeyer, Heron Lake Vineyard – “Just as in 2013 and 2014, sugar levels are unusually high for mid-August: approaching 21 Brix as of the 20th. This could be one of the earliest harvests ever. The crop will be small, but the grapes’ high skin-to-juice ratios augurs complex fruit flavors.”

For real-time harvest photos and updates, visit the Napa Valley Vintners’ Harvest 2015 website at

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