Harvest Fieldnotes — Year: 2016

It’s a Wrap!

By mid-October, vintners throughout the Napa Valley were breathing a collective sigh of relief – and satisfaction – for the end of this year’s harvest. The near-perfect growing season started early, saw ideal weather conditions throughout and wrapped up as the valley’s first significant fall rainstorm arrived on October 14. Wines from the 2016 vintage are now quietly developing in cellars throughout Napa Valley and vintners are pinching themselves and smiling for the gift it appears Mother Nature has given them: a fifth consecutive vintage of stellar quality Napa Valley wines.

2016 Harvest Press Conference

Our colleagues at the Napa Valley Grapegrowers brought together a panel of industry experts on October 12 to discuss Napa Valley’s 2016 growing season, as well as other insights and challenges currently facing Napa Valley grapegrowers and wine producers today. Visit the Napa Valley Grapegrowers website for more information about the conference and speakers.

Nearing the Finish Line

Thanks to a recent series of warm days, many vineyards progressed to perfect ripeness resulting in a grape picking frenzy at the end of September. October started with some light showers that settled the dust, but did not threaten any grapes remaining on the vine. With warm temperatures predicted for at least the next week, most vintners say they’ll be done picking by mid-October. Of course, Napa Valley’s diverse microclimates and varied wine styles mean there are still some grapes on the vine – in cooler hillside vineyards, or at the direction of winemakers who favor longer hang time. While picking dates may vary, winemakers agree on two things about the 2016 harvest: very high quality grapes and average to slightly above average yields across the board. Photos courtesy of Bob McClenahan, Carole Meredith, Kitchak Cellars and Spring Mountain Vineyard.

Wild Weather Roller Coaster Ride

Like an amusement park ride, recent temperatures have gone up, hovering at 100 degrees on the 18th; back down, to the low 50s overnight midweek; and now they’re headed back up with another 100 degree day predicted on the 25th. The result? Picking of white wine grapes is essentially done. Most of the medium-bodied reds, like Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Syrah are gently fermenting in tanks across the valley. Cabernet Sauvignon is knocking at and crossing over cellar doors. At night, the valley is nearly as bright as day with portable floodlights filling the sky as pickers work feverishly below. Grape trucks loaded with white, yellow and blue bins line the highway each morning as the valley comes to life, ready for another frenzied day. Photos courtesy of Bob McClenahan.

Ready for Reds

Perfect weather continues, stretching this year’s harvest for more than six weeks so far. Vintners from Carneros to Calistoga are reporting that aromatic white grapes like Sauvignon Blanc are mostly off the vine. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir harvests are winding down and the first reds – like Zinfandel, Syrah and a smattering of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon – are starting to hit the crush pad. For Cabernet producers on the hillsides, first picking dates are still a few days (and for some more than a week) away. Last week’s warmer temperatures brought a flurry of activity, but cooler conditions over the past few days are giving everyone a much-needed break and the chance to catch their breath in the cellar before gearing up again with activities like pressing, punch-downs and pump-overs. Warmer weather predicted later this week and next will bring another rush of picking throughout Napa Valley’s vineyards. Photo courtesy of Bob McClenahan.

White Wine is Divine

The pace is picking up, with a variety of Napa Valley white wine grapes now hitting the crush pad: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Pinot Grigio and even some Chardonnay. Winemaking crews are getting busier, but they are happy and smiling because the quality of this year’s harvest is truly exceptional so far. Yields are also looking good – not record breaking, but definitely more abundant that last year’s light crop. Bright lights can be seen overnight, up and down the valley, as vineyard crews pick grapes during this coolest part of the day. There are many benefits to picking at night: more comfortable conditions for workers, grapes arrive at proper temperature to begin fermentation (ideally around 55 degrees) and wineries save energy because the grapes don’t need to be chilled before they are crushed. Photos courtesy of Bob McClenahan.

Now We’re Cookin’

Thanks to a week of warm (but not hot) days and cool, crisp nights, the harvest pace is picking up. We’d hate to jinx it, but the weather has been PERFECT for developing grape ripeness balanced with acidity, thanks to big swings between daytime and nighttime temperatures. Up and down Napa Valley, first bins of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir grapes are arriving at crush pads being blessed and celebrated with splashes of sparkling wine. In the vineyard, clusters of Cabernet Sauvignon are making the steady transition from green to pink and soon to purple. Winemakers are walking the vineyards, sampling grapes and ensuring each vine is getting the perfect amount of sun and shade. In just a couple of weeks, we’ll really be in the thick harvest 2016. Photos courtesy Cakebread Cellars and Frog’s Leap.

Hurry Up and Wait!

Just when we thought harvest was going to be early, Mother Nature stepped in and turned down the thermostat. Since late July, a cool weather pattern has slowed ripening by a bit. A few grapes have been picked – including Pinot Noir from south Napa County for sparkling wine, Semillon from Calistoga and Sauvignon Blanc from Gordon Valley – but we’re not in the full swing we expected by now. But, there’s still plenty to do to ensure quality, including fine-tuning the vine canopies so grapes get just the right amount of sunlight to cross the finish line to ripeness. Winemakers are grateful for this year’s ideal weather and full-on harvest is expected in about a week for white grapes and early September for reds. Photos courtesy Duckhorn Vineyards and Schramsberg Vineyards.

Napa Valley’s 2016 Wine Grape Harvest Underway

The first wine grapes of the 2016 vintage were picked on July 28 at Green Island Vineyard in southern Napa County and have made their way from the vineyard to the crush pad to become Mumm Napa sparkling wine. The picking of aromatic white wine grapes, like Sauvignon Blanc, will start in the next week to 10 days. Recent warm temperatures are helping the grapes transition from veraison to full ripeness. The beginning of this year’s harvest is somewhat earlier than average, but similar to start dates of the past three years. Winemakers are gearing up for their busy season, bottling recent vintages and making tank space for what’s to come. They’re also out walking the vineyards deciding the perfect moment to pick.