Grape Harvest Winds Down in Napa
The 2013 harvest in Napa Valley: 'Fat, fast and furious'
Truchard, whose family farms in the Carneros AVA, said, “Mother Nature was again very generous to Napa Valley in 2013. Both the yields and quality exceeded expectations. With a dry spring and summer and a bit warmer temperatures, everything ripened very quickly making it a very fast and compacted harvest — with the exception of one day of rain, one Saturday and a few Sundays — we have been picking grapes pretty much every day since Aug. 28 at Truchard.”
Harvest started at Truchard with a small pick of Pinot Noir on Aug. 29. “At the third week of October, we are about 85% finished and plan to finish up this week or shortly after with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Thankfully we have had a relatively dry and warm October. Yields were higher than expected across the board. All the grapes looked very clean, healthy and free from disease. We did have a bit of shriveling in the hillsides that we attribute to the dry spring as well as the dry north wind that came at the beginning of October.”
While all the growers that Wines & Vines spoke to from Carneros to Calistoga remarked on the early timing and praised the quality of their fruit, not all experienced high yields. The following are further reports from Napa Valley’s varied vineyard districts. Napa County produced more than 181,000 tons of wine grapes in 2012's record harvest that produced a crop with a total value of more than $656 million. According to Wines Vines Analytics, the county is home to nearly 1,000 wineries and 733 growers.
Tom Farella of Farella Vineyard in Coombsville east of the city of Napa in southern Napa County, said, “After a season of close calls with heat waves, monsoonal summer storms and an early start, harvest was hectic at first but the quality was top-rate across the board.” His harvest started and ended about two weeks earlier than last year, Farella said.
He added, “The early rains became a non-issue since we had dry, breezy weather afterward. While yields were pretty high on our white varieties (Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay), the quality was also high and everyone was delighted with a few extra tons to work with in a banner year. On our vineyard, the reds (Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec) came in at slightly below historical averages in most areas, slightly higher on bigger soils. For the most part, harvesting the red varieties was a fairly simple affair since heat spikes were minimal and it was easy to pick around the dry north winds in the middle of the season.
“Even though it has been a droughty year,” Farella said, “the vines seemed to have held up well with minimal irrigation. Shoot growth was in-check, as a consequence, so most of the early canopy work was sufficient to make it through the season with only minor adjustments. In the end, I feel that this was a classic vintage and we couldn’t be happier with the results,” he said.
Jon Ruel is President of Trefethen Family Vineyards as well as this year’s president of Napa Valley Grapegrowers. He said that Trefethen in the Oak Knoll district of southern Napa Valley completed harvest of its Chardonnay and Riesling before the end of September for the first time since 2008. “The early harvest was no surprise — the vineyard had been tracking early since the warm and dry spring. Degree-day accumulation through September of this year was greater than through October in each of the last six years.
“Summer was beautiful with many warm days but no severe heat spells. Significant diurnal temperature swings were common in the summer and fall, as much as 50+ degrees. For example, over the past seven days we have averaged 33F overnight and 85F during the day!”
He said that yields were on target, not quite as large as last year, but “Quality appears to be fantastic! Whites, already dry, taste great. Reds, many still fermenting, hold great promise.”
Linda Neal owns Tierra Roja Vineyard, a 5-scre vineyard sandwiched between big names like Rudd, Screaming Eagle and Phelps on Silverado Train in the Oakville AVA. She reports that it’s “a wonderful year winding down.”
She’s taken in her grapes, and agrees with her peers that it’s been two good years with excellent quality, good growing conditions and nice yield. “We’ve truly been blessed,” Neal said.
Michaela K. Rodeno, the former president of St. Supéry Vineyard, has retired and reinvigorated her own grapegrowing and winemaking efforts. She reports, “Our Oakville Sauvignon Blanc (which she sells to Honig) yielded a slightly above average crop of good-looking grapes. It was a happy year in the vineyards — but not for heirloom tomatoes. Go figure.”
At Honig Vineyards in Rutherford, Michael Honig was ebullient: “It’s been two amazing years in a row! Kristin [Belaire, the winemaker] is delighted with the quality,” he said, adding, “It was a low-Prozac ye ar.”
He reported that Sauvignon Blanc was up a lot in tonnage, and Cabernet was about what his team expected. Honig said that the biggest challenge was that the harvest was so compressed that the reds started coming in almost on top of the whites. “We were jammed up for space.”
He added, “Fortunately, we had the whites in by the time that little rain came, and it delayed the reds just enough for us to empty the tanks of whites. In fact, it gave the reds a little more hang time and there was no damage, either. The reds we grow can take a little rain.”
Dave Yewell is this year’s president of Appellation St. Helena as well as a grower in that area. He agreed with other respondents that one word being used to describe vintage 2013 is “early.” “We had early bud break, early flower set, early veraison, and early harvest – starting in August and finishing early. We had no frost in the spring, no super hot temperatures in the summer and no significant rain until now. This means we got about the same yield as last year, with excellent sugar and fruit ripeness, and good acid levels.”
Spring Mountain Vineyard above St. Helena, Calif., is in the Spring Mountain District and is celebrating the 140th anniversary of Cabernet being planted there this year. Ron Rosenbrand, its vineyard manager since 2003, said: “A warm, dry, late winter meant an early start to the 2013 vintage. The weather during harvest has been ideal on Spring Mountain, with warm days and moderately cool nights. We began to harvest Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir on Aug. 30 and will finish with Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot on Oct. 22. The quality of fruit is exceptional, and yields are normal, about 1.5 to 2 tons per acre.”
From Pritchard Hill overlooking Napa Valley on the east comes a report from Nile Zacherle, who handles winemaking and vineyard operations at David Arthur Vineyards and Montagna Napa Valley as well as his own Zacherle Wines.
“The 2013 vintage has been an outstanding one although it has had its challenges,” Zacherle said. “The year began with very low rainfall and throughout the spring we continued to see very little moisture. We began irrigation on all of our vineyard blocks in early April and watered aggressively throughout the year other than during berry sizing.
“This year our yields were down about 15-20% on average and the quality quite high. We had anticipated some dehydration and more loss during maturation and of course this along with smaller than normal berry size contributed to the weight loss. We managed to side step some of the really bad shrivel and raisining that occurred elsewhere and did a fair amount of spot picking to assist in quality. The intensity of color and extract this year cannot go unnoticed. I feel that we will have bolder wines in 2013 in contrast to what appears to be more forward styling from the 2012.”
Laura Michael Wines grows Zinfandel in Calistoga, Calif., at the north end of Silverado Trail. Owner Laura Zahtila Swanton said, “The crop load this year was heavier than expected after last year’s large harvest. The berries were large and juicy and we got a record yield from our property that was mostly planted in 1996. The fruit was nicely balanced and a careful sorting process ensured high quality fruit moving into the fermentor.
She buys Calistoga Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. “The Calistoga Cabernet Sauvignon, on the other hand, came in fairly light compared to the harvest of 2012. Our grower said he was 30% lighter than last year. The quality was very good with no shrivel and balanced fruit with small berries. The light yield also led to an earlier than usual picking timeframe with a mid September pick.”
Zahtila Swanton also reported that Calistoga Petite Sirah was very clean with an average yield. “The berries were slightly smaller than last year, and slightly drier, which was a happy result of the solid farming practice. Very good color and balance in this fruit.”
At Ladera Vineyard on Howell Mountain, owner Pat Stotesbery said, “It was a nearly perfect year and harvest on Howell Mountain. The growing season was textbook and left the fruit without raisins and in healthy shape for what ultimately turned out to be an early harvest.
The only hiccup was the brief shower before the start of picking that did no damage at all. When picking began it began in earnest and continued consistently to an early end with most people beating quantity estimates and pushing the limits of tank space.
“Flavors coming out of fermenters are outstanding and have matched the quality of the growing conditions. This should be a terrific vintage for both vintners (high quantity) and consumers (high quality). A repeat of 1997?”
Rodeno grows Sangiovese in Pope Valley for her Villa Ragazzi brand. “It came in with average tonnage, about 1.2 ton/acre and the usual excellent quality. That low vigor Rodeno clone makes great wine, not profits! We were also able to source a couple of tons for the first time from a grower in Calistoga who has some from our budwood. It was beautiful fruit!”