It’s hard to believe, but winemakers from several parts of the Napa Valley report being done or close to being done picking grapes for the 2015 vintage. Harvest normally continues into late October or even early November for most vintners, but not this year. In some of the cooler hillside areas, a few blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon and other varieties used to make Napa Valley red wine blends are still hanging on the vine building their flavors, but most vineyards on the valley floor are “picked out” and the fermenting juice is “barreled down.” Even though the vineyards are growing quieter, wineries throughout Napa Valley are bustling with activity as active fermentations are pumped over, punched down and pressed off. Winemakers continue to express their excitement about the quality of this year’s harvest – and their frustration at the limited yields they’re experiencing.
The harvest is winding down. Only a few lots of Cabernet Sauvignon are left to be picked. Most all other varieties are in and 2015 will go down in history as one of the earliest harvests ever. It will leave us plenty of time to prepare for a hopefully normal winter with plenty of rainfall. The nights are getting cool it is clear that fall is here.”
Alexander Eisele, General Manager, Volker Eisele Family Estate
It’s warmed up again since last week’s cooler temperatures and light rain, nudging along an already early and accelerated harvest season. Some Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are still taking on a few more days of sun and warmth, but most red varieties have ripened and are being brought in. A bit unusually, Napa Valley Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are being picked at the same time as Syrah and Petite Sirah in the same week. Most local vintners are expecting to wrap things up in the next two weeks or so, making this one of the earliest harvests ever. In the cellar, Chardonnay and other whites are fermenting and eliciting oohs and aahs from winemaking teams. The refrain overall for this year’s grape harvest: amazing quality with concentrated flavors; good acidity and balance; lower overall yields.
At Chimney Rock, our fast and furious pace for the Cabernet Sauvignon harvest continues as we come closer to the finish line. Our team is a bit tired, but also exhilarated by it all. I predict all our grapes will be in before the 1st of October – a first in my 15 years at the winery.”
Elizabeth Vianna, Winemaker, Chimney Rock Winery
Harvest continues its full-press pace, having really kicked in with last week’s hot temperatures. Everyone is grateful for cooler temperatures this week, to give both people and grapes a breather. Rain on Wednesday was most welcome as it lightly hydrated and rinsed the grapes still hanging, which continue to develop and concentrate flavors. Almost all of the white grapes have been pressed and are starting fermentation, with most Pinot Noir having been brought in. Waves of Merlot and Malbec continue to make their way from vineyard to crush pad and we’re well into the Cabernet Sauvignon harvest, especially hillside fruit, in some areas of Napa Valley.
With the cooler temperatures and a bit of moisture, our Merlot grapes are developing the way we want with concentrated, deep flavors. How do we tell when they’re ready? Although we take samples and use those numbers as a baseline, we walk the vineyards every day. We taste. And then one day the flavors we are looking for develop and we schedule picking. In our vineyards, we’ve tried to match up clones and rootstock to different soil types for a palette of different flavor profiles to work with.”
Bruce Regalia, winemaker, Materra, Cunat Family Vineyards
By Saturday, all that we’ve been working with at harvest was put in perspective as the Valley Fire blew up to the northeast in Lake County. The human side of our business is especially important at a time like this and seeing our friends and neighbors in crisis reminds us of what really matters. I’m happy to say that all of our people are safe and despite the loss that some have experienced, continuing harvest and focusing on what we need to accomplish has been a unifying force.”
Matt Crafton, Winemaker, Chateau Montelena
And so, harvest continues, having really kicked in with last week’s hot temperatures. Everyone is grateful for cooler temperatures this week, to give both people and grapes a breather. A spot of rain mid-week would be most welcome to lightly hydrate and settle dust, while concentrated flavors continue to develop. Almost all of the white grapes have been pressed and are starting fermentation, with most Pinot Noir having been brought in. Waves of Merlot and Malbec continue to make their way from vineyard to crush pad and we’re well into the Cabernet Sauvignon harvest, especially hillside fruit, in some areas of Napa Valley.
OK. It’s official. We’re really in the groove now with this week’s start of the Chardonnay harvest. Urged on by a recent spate of warm days, which were complemented by nighttime temperatures that dropped into the 50s and low 60s, the ripening process thus far has been balanced and in check. Although this year’s Chardonnay harvest is earlier than what is considered average, it is on par with last year’s timing. Depending on a winemaker’s stylistic preferences (and there are many different styles of Napa Valley Chardonnay), this grape variety will be coming in for the next three to four weeks.
Ivo Jeramez, vice president of vineyards and production for Grgich Hills Estate, has been tending to the winery’s estate vineyards for more than 30 years. Ivo looks for Chardonnay flavors that are a bit beyond apple toward pear, with juice that has a certain nectar-like texture. Grgich celebrated its 39th annual Blessing of the Grapes on Friday, August 21. It is a tradition widely practiced in the Napa Valley that has its roots in the Old Testament. Ivo describes their event as the chance to gather the harvest crew and winery friends to toast the coming vintage. A time to celebrate the hard work and care it takes to bring the literal fruits of their labor to the crushpad.
After grapes for sparkling wines, Sauvignon Blanc and other wine grapes, often referred to as aromatic whites, are typically the next Napa Valley grapes to be brought from the vineyard to the crush pad. These grapes tend to mature earlier than most other grapes. Their sought-after and refreshing citrus, tropical and other fruit flavors are articulated at an acid/sugar ratio that requires less heat and time on the vine.
Picking of Sauvignon Blanc grapes, along with a sprinkling of other aromatic white wine grapes such as Albariño, Aligoté, Semillion and Viognier, began as a trickle late last week and is now picking up momentum. Toby Halkovich, director of vineyard operations for Cakebread Cellars, received his first Sauvignon Blanc grapes on August 4. And on the evening of August 3? Toby and his family had their traditional “last supper” heralding the long and erratic hours of this crazy wild time called harvest.
The first grapes were picked at dawn on Wednesday, July 22, heralding an early start for this year’s harvest season. The grapes are destined to become Napa Valley sparkling wine and are usually the first to be picked. The reason? To ensure the bright acidity that winemakers are looking for in this style of wine.
What made the day special for Ludovic Dervin, winemaker for Mumm Napa Valley? “On the first day of harvest we saber a bottle of sparkling wine and sprinkle it on the grapes in the first press load. It celebrates the end of a cycle in the vineyard, and honors the rite of passage between the grape growers and the winemakers, taking custody of our precious Napa Valley grapes.”
Aromatic white wine grapes, like Sauvignon Blanc, are expected to be picked in early August – follow #NapaHarvest and be among the first to know!