Relatively mild weather over the last week has growers excited about the prospects for the 2016 harvest.
All signs point to another early harvest, correspondents agree, and yields should be up from last year. Grapes for sparkling wine have been harvested, and a few correspondents report picking other early varietals like sauvignon blanc, semillon and some chardonnay, but most are just letting the cool temperatures continue the slow ripening process.
“This is as ideal as it gets,” said Matt Crafton of Chateau Montelena.
Here’s the first installment of the 2016 harvest report, organized by American Viticultural Areas:
Calistoga – Matt Crafton, Chateau Montelena – “We’re definitely in ‘hurry up and wait’ mode here in Calistoga. The brutally hot temperatures in early August pushed the few Upvalley acres of sauvignon blanc and semillon to ripeness but we haven’t seen many picking crews out over the last 10 days. The mild weather pattern that moved in last week should continue the recent trend of slow ripening. This is as ideal as it gets.”
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Howell Mountain – Pat Stotesbery, Ladera Vineyards – “At this time last year folks were starting to pick sauv blanc; not this year. While still ahead of most years, they are a bit behind last year. SB should start late next week but probably in small amounts. As for reds, there are still people who have not finished a green drop, so things are still weeks away from excitement. Fewer but larger clusters for reds so quantity looks generally typical.”
Diamond Mountain District – Dawnine Dyer, Dyer Vineyards — “It’s mostly quiet on Diamond Mountain where there’s near unanimous agreement that it will be mid-September before we see any real action. Budbreak was early but a cooler May delayed bloom and put us pretty much back to ‘normal’ by the time we had berry set. Cluster counts are a little down but the set was good and veraison finished rapidly. The current weather is near perfect and all is in place for a successful harvest. Stay tuned!”
Chiles Valley District – Alexander Eisele, Volker Eisele Family Estate – “Rainfall for the past season was average for our district: 28.5 inches since the end of last year’s harvest. Fortunately, the spring frost was minimal and not too much water was needed for frost protection. The past week saw the first fruit being harvested: sauvignon blanc, average Brix 23.5, as well as a little semillon at 22.5. Both varietals are showing average to above average yields with very nice clean fruit. Everything is pointing to another early year. This week we will see more sauvignon blanc and semillon being harvested and the first hillside zinfandel is getting close.”
Spring Mountain District – Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone Winery – “Spring Mountain Winery is the first to start on the mountain. They’ve harvested some sauvignon blanc, pinot noir and chardonnay. Stony Hill and Smith-Madrone will likely start toward the end of this week, with Keenan, Schweiger and Pride Mountain still some ways off for chardonnay. Early trends seem to be a very good merlot crop, a below average crop for cabernet sauvignon and a longer than normal veraison for reds.”
St. Helena – Elizabeth Tangney, Saint Helena Winery — “We are enjoying the calm before the storm. This is the time to get the winery ready to receive the grapes we have worked hard to prepare all season. The steady temperature in the low 90s has been a relief from the 100-plus days we saw earlier this summer. We will start tasting the grapes for ripeness and hope to harvest without any curveballs from Mother Nature.”
Rutherford – Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyard & Winery – “Happy Harvest everyone! At Honig, our first sauvignon blanc crossed the crush pad on Aug. 9, five days later than last year. Over the past two weeks, we have had time to test out all of the equipment while bringing in roughly 10 percent of our sauvignon blanc fruit. With our first Rutherford sauvignon blanc being picked today (Aug. 22), the leisurely warm-up is quickly accelerating to a steady, rapid albeit measured pace! We could easily have the remaining 90 percent of our sauvignon blanc in before Labor Day! The forecasted mild weather has been optimum for flavor development and maintaining sugar and acid balance. Crop levels so far look to be average to just below average.”
Yountville – Bill Nancarrow, Goosecross Cellars — “Here in Yountville we have seen some fervent activity the past two weeks as grapes destined for sparkling wines have been picked. Some sauvignon blanc, pinot blanc, pinot gris, and flora have been harvested as well. By all accounts yields are good, and the wineries are ecstatic with the condition and character of the fruit. The current weather pattern looks ideal for balanced ripening, perhaps giving us all time to head to R&D for a Crispy Chicken Sandwich for lunch this week.”
Atlas Peak – Melissa Apter, Antica Napa Valley-Antinori Family Wine Estate — “Here in Atlas Peak we know that when the valley floor starts waking up, we have a few weeks to finish our preparations for the new vintage. It is time to finish cleaning picking bins, get our tractors in line and sanitize the cellar for the 2016 fruit. Most of us are finishing up with our green drop passes and overall the yield this year looks great. There is more uniformity overall compared to last year and even ripening in all varietals. We are anticipating a great 2016 harvest and are excited to get started!”
Mount Veeder – Sander Scheer, Hess Collection – “The 2016 Mount Veeder crop looks to be coming together nicely. Growing conditions have been favorable this vintage. Flavors are beginning to take shape in the chardonnay and yield is up this year. We should start picking in the next 10 to 14 days. We are excited to get going with harvest.”
Oak Knoll District – John Ruel, Trefethen Vineyards & Winery – “After the warm spring got the vines off to a very early start, the mild summer slowed them down a bit. The harvest for sparkling wines was early, but not as early as last year. Growers around our area have begun picking their earliest blocks of sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. How quickly the picking pace picks up will depend on the weather, which, for now, looks like more of the same — foggy mornings and sunny afternoons.”
Carneros – Chris Hyde, Hyde Vineyards — “After a winter with average rainfall, the Carneros AVA had a mild, almost completely frost-free spring. With cluster counts looking promising, we experienced two mild rain events during bloomtime in May. July and August, typically the hottest months of the year, have been mostly moderate temperature in Carneros, with foggy mornings and cool wind in the afternoon, leading into cooler nighttime temperature, ideal for slow ripening.”
Wild Horse Valley – John Newmeyer, Heron Lake Vineyard – “After a rather late budbreak, a decently warm and dry spring and early summer got the Wild Horse Valley grapegrowing season going nicely. By late July veraison was well underway, disclosing a crop that was lighter than usual but far better than the extremely low 2015 levels. As of this past weekend, the pinot noir was at 21 Brix and the chardonnay at 19. It appears that — once again! — harvest will be quite early.”
For real-time harvest photos and updates, visit the Napa Valley Vintners’ Harvest 2016 website at napavintners.com/harvest.