Harvest Play-By-Play — Harvest Updates

Moment to Reflect

Weeks have come and gone, and the close of this year’s harvest is upon us. The usual cheering, end of harvest get-togethers and general excitement have been replaced with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. The recent wildfires came right as harvest was wrapping up for many in the valley, with an estimated 90% of the grapes already in. This year’s harvest has tested every winemaker’s quick thinking, thanks to the ups and downs that Mother Nature has thrown their way. Even with everything that has happened, this year’s vintage is going to be excellent. While the celebrating might not happen today, this week or even next month, our sense of community and love for each other will shine. As we start to pick up the pieces, we will all share a glass of wine and be thankful for what we have. Jon Ruel from Trefethen Vineyards may have said it best: “We know that the Napa community is resilient and we will support each other as we move forward together.”

If you would like to support the Napa Valley community during this challenging time, you can donate to the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund or enjoy a glass or bottle Napa Valley wine wherever you are. Even better: come visit us sometime, taste early samples from the 2017 vintage and experience the bounty and beauty that still remains in the place we are so grateful to call home.

Harvest Huddle with Doug Hill

Doug Hill brought us up the mountain (even though you can’t see it) to introduce us to his crew picking Malbec grapes deep into the night. Night Harvesting is easier on the crew, ensures nice cool fruit coming into the winery, and is a really interesting thing to watch.

Back in the Saddle Again

This harvest season has given us our fair share of ups and downs weather-wise. It might sound like a broken record, but Mother Nature is keeping us active. Last week’s dip in temperatures slowed down the progress of harvest for most throughout the valley, but the silver lining for producers was the ability to catch up in the cellar. Just when we thought the cooler weather was here to stay, the heat returned and it was a blessing for all. This latest rise in temperatures helped push grapes to ripen, and the valley is alive once again with the bright lights of night harvesting. We are still a few weeks out before most Cabernet Sauvignon will be picked, but the consensus from winemakers is that by mid-October we will be in the thick of it. Even with this crazy ride, everyone is happy with the quality and yield coming out of the vineyards.

Harvest Huddle with Stephanie Jacobs

For our third “Harvest Huddle” video, we headed inside to see what goes on in the winery during harvest. Winemaker Stephanie Jacobs of Cakebread Cellars discusses fermenting “on lees” and what that adds to her Chardonnay. The winemakers of Napa are constantly walking their fruit through the stages of becoming wine, even if that means hand stirring barrels multiple times before they go into bottle.

The Hills Are Alive…With Grapes

Another week has come to an end this harvest season, and we couldn’t be happier. Weather conditions are ideal for our red wine grapes and the few late harvest white grapes are still on the vine. Vintners on the valley floor have been busily picking lighter reds and small lots of Cabernet Sauvignon, but our hillside producers have been relatively quiet until now. Almost all hillside wineries are starting to bring in fruit, and things couldn’t be better. Lush, vibrant fruit is making winemakers so excited they could dance – literally! While we still have a few weeks to go before the height of the Cabernet Sauvignon picking begins, it gives us time to stop and enjoy the other amazing varieties that grow within the valley.

Harvest Huddle with Matt Crafton

In the second of our “Harvest Huddle” video series, Winemaker Matt Crafton dishes the dirt on the dirt. The soils in Napa Valley are so diverse, they offer winemakers different taste profiles. This allows them to blend as needed to achieve the quality and taste they are aiming for.

Harvest Huddle with Doug Shafer

Harvest is all about deciding the perfect time to pick the grapes. And what influences that decision? That little thing to the south of us called San Francisco Bay. Doug Shafer of Shafer Vineyards talks about the bay’s influence on harvest in the first of our “Harvest Huddle” videos.

Mother Nature Keeping Us On Our Toes

From record-breaking heat to drizzly summer days, this year’s harvest is keeping our winemakers busy. Throughout the valley, temperatures soared well over 100 degrees for multiple days causing a flurry of activity in the vineyards. As of now most white wine grapes have been picked, and many producers are expecting red grapes in the coming days. If you had asked our winemakers back in May if they thought they would have their white wine harvest completed before Labor Day, they surely would have laughed. Most thought the timing of this year’s harvest would be “normal” and it has been anything but. However, it looks like there is a slow down on the horizon with cooler weather headed our way, a welcome change for all. The silver lining to the busy nights and endless days of work is that this year’s crop size is normal and quality is excellent across the board.

Busy Worker Bees

As temperatures increase, so does the intensity of this year’s harvest. Many producers throughout the valley have been busy bringing in Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and other aromatic whites. Just when we thought it would be another average harvest, Mother Nature has thrown us a curve ball: a prolonged heat wave is keeping winemakers on their toes. Grape bins are being filled with the more delicate grape varieties ensuring they are picked ahead of the heat spike. While crush pads and tank rooms are bustling, the real work is in the vineyards right now ensuring fruit has proper canopy protection or shade cloth to protect it from the elements. The weather might have winemakers moving up picking schedules, but everyone is waiting with open arms to meet the abundance of fruit hitting the crush pad.

And So It Begins

Throughout the valley, winemakers are buzzing with the excitement of bringing in their first grapes to the crush pad. We are seeing an array of Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier from both north and south Napa County. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, some producers had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to harvest and crush during the eclipse. While many grape varieties are starting to come in, we are still not in the full swing of harvest. The cooler nights and mornings are letting the grapes take their time to ripen fully. 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.

Did Someone Say Bubbles?

The first wine grapes of this year’s harvest were picked on August 7 in southern Napa County and have made their way from the vineyard to the crush pad to become the first sparkling wine of the 2017 vintage. Other sparkling wine producers will be picking their first wine grapes in the coming days. The timing of this year’s harvest looks to be normal, a welcome change from the early harvests the past couple of years. Sauvignon Blanc and other aromatic white wine grapes will start to hit crush pads in the next 14 – 20 days. The recent heat hasn’t caused any concerns for vintners. This year’s wet winter has winemakers throughout the valley thankful, but has led to a lot of vine vigor or how one vintner described his vines as being quite “frisky” this year. Vintners and growers are busy managing vine canopies, checking as grapes turn from green to red and gearing up for another high quality Napa Valley vintage.

Harvest 2017: Coming Soon!

One year ago, Napa Valley’s wineries were already gearing up to begin picking the first grapes of the new vintage. Thanks to a colder, wetter winter, it looks like our 2017 harvest won’t get underway for a couple more weeks. Right now, winemakers are walking their vineyards, keeping a keen eye on what’s happening. Workers are strategically managing vine canopies to ensure optimal sun exposure while grapes are beginning veraison, the process of slowly changing color and transitioning to the ripeness and softness that says “pick me!” We call harvest Our Championship Season because it is the culmination of 12 months of rigorous work and concentrated effort. It’s the time when the wine community puts in more hours than any other during the year. It’s also the time when we come together with the common goal of producing the best possible wines that deserve to say Napa Valley on the label. It’s almost harvest time and we hope you’ll join us for updates, photos, videos, music and the stories of just what’s behind every bottle of Napa Valley wine.

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.