2009 Napa Valley harvest: from shatter to the healthiest, tastiest fruit in the past six years

by TrevR on September 2, 2009

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Following a substantial heatwave this past weekend, you’d expect harvest to be kicking into gear by now.

Let’s check in with our three contributing vintners to see how things have progressed since last week’s update…

Up first is managing general partner Stu Smith, who last week noted the harvest on Spring Mountain remained behind schedule due to the cooler growing conditions throughout the summer. Here’s his report for this week:

Clearly a much different year than the 2008 vintage. One of the coolest growing seasons in anyone’s memory, there was substantially more summer fog, the high temperatures were lower and the length of those hot spells was shorter. Harvest is still expected to start a week to 10 days later than normal. Merlot shattered badly, Cabernet Sauvignon is a strong average plus crop (much better than last year), several of us thinned the Cabernet franc and those with white grapes are expecting a very good crop.

We asked Smith to clarify what he meant when he said the ‘Merlot shattered badly’. Here’s his explanation:

It means during set we didn’t get a good set; instead of full clusters they’re scraggly clusters. Or in other words, the flowering didn’t work. Merlot is historically known for shattering—it means the flowers don’t form into berries. In a good set, all the flowers form into berries. Where there’s shatter, the flowers don’t form into berries. Right now we have straggly, incomplete not-full clusters, i.e. shatter.

When asked if Smith-Madrone has shatter every year, Smith said “No…there are a lot of factors, fundamentally the weather. Also some root stocks shatter more than others, depends how vigorous they are.”

Piña Napa Valley
In Rutherford, assistant winemaker Macario Montoya had this report:

Piña's harvest intern Richard Vuletich samples fruit from the Buckeye Vineyard on Howell Mountain

Piña's harvest intern Richard Vuletich samples fruit from the Buckeye Vineyard on Howell Mountain

As we get closer to harvest, our trips to the vineyards increase. Not only are we measuring the sugar levels, PH levels and TA levels but we are tasting the berries as we go through each of the vineyards. Sometimes the numbers may indicate that the grapes are mature and ready, but if the flavors that Anna and I are looking for are not present, then we will wait until they are. Last week, we sampled four of our six single vineyard sites. We like to sample in the morning so that we can get a more accurate assessment of what the true numbers are. As the heat of the day settles into valley, the sugar levels tend to rise and don’t give as accurate of an assessment. Across the board we saw pretty normal conditions. Our Brix levels ranged from 18.4 to 23.5, PH levels from 3.08 to 3.45 and TA (titratable acidity) from .69 to 1.12. These samples were all taken prior to the heatwave we had on Friday and Saturday of last week. While we won’t know what affect the heat had on the grapes until we take samples later this week, one thing we do know is that sooner or later we will be processing fruit.

Swanson Vineyards
Finally, an update from the only one of our vintners to actually start harvest to-date. Vineyard manager Ross Hall shared his optimism on the 2009 vintage after having already brought in more than 50 tons of Pinot Grigio grapes…

We started harvest on Monday, 17 August. This first harvest day was from two of our newest blocks of Pinot Grigio and the new blocks ripen first. Then we had the rest of the week off. None of the rest of the Pinot Grigio had achieved that degree of perfection in maturity and flavor that our winemaker demands. They needed a bit more time in the sun and exposure to some warmer weather. Nature cooperated and we got the sun and heat we needed. So, on Monday, 24 August we got into harvest in earnest. In the last eight days we have brought in more than 50 tons of Pinot Grigio grapes. 2009 has been a great year for us so far, and we’ve harvested some of the healthiest, tastiest and colorful fruit we’ve seen in the past six years. We are very optimistic about the potential quality of our 2009 vintage Pinot Grigio and are looking forward to a light, crisp, citrus forward wine with all the delightful characteristics we love in or Pinot Grigio. In the next few days we will finish harvesting our Pinot Grigio and will begin bringing in our other white varieties, which include Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and, of course, Chardonnay. More on that effort later.

Be sure to check out the Harvest 2009 category for full coverage.

[techtags: Napa, Napa Valley, wine, winery, napa grape harvest, 2009 harvest, napa harvest 2009, Smith-Madrone, Piña Napa Valley, Swanson Vineyards]

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has written 725 posts on The Cork Board. He was born and aged in the Napa Valley and has a passion for wine, writing and social media, which led him to co-found this blog in early 2007. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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