2009 Napa Valley harvest: some Cabernet Sauvignon left to weather the storm

by TrevR on October 14, 2009

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This week’s installment of harvest updates is, predictably, very much focused on Mother Nature.

Read-on to learn how Rutherford’s Piña Napa Valley and Spring Mountain’s Smith-Madrone prepared for and are now dealing with the first big winter storm to hit the area.

Picked Napa Vineyard

Piña Napa Valley
Winemaker Anna Monticelli explained the impact of the recent rainfall and provided details on yields so far in 2009…

The valley was full of grape trucks today as vintners brought in fruit before the impending rain. The weather forecast has predicted that this particular storm will give us 1-4 inches of rainfall. This isn’t the 1/10th inch of rain we saw 2 weeks ago. That amount of rain didn’t even wash the dust off the grapes. This rain however will likely be much more substantial and can affect the water content of the grapes, effectively diluting them.

At Piña Napa Valley, we brought in some Cabernet from our Yountville Wolff Vineyard on Saturday because it was ripe and ready to come in. Our Howell Mountain Buckeye Vineyard Cabernet is not ready and the fruit must stay on the vine and ride out the bad weather. Fortunately we pulled all the leaves in the fruit zone last week to increase sun and air exposure so this will help the grapes dry after the rain preventing rot.

Overall our yields are up anywhere from 25-40% this year from 2008. This is very vineyard dependent. Generally our vineyards that have more sun exposure, such as our Oakville Ames Vineyard and Rutherford Firehouse Vineyard had a 25% increase whereas the Wolff Vineyard Yountville and D’Adamo Vineyard Napa had 40% increases. We originally thought we would have an even larger crop but there was a variable set for Cabernet Sauvignon this year.

Managing Partner Stu Smith also shared a few thoughts on Mother Nature and predicted a wet and cold winter to come…

There was a big upswing in tempo this last week, especially this weekend and Monday as everyone worked long hours to get their grapes off the vines before The Big storm hits. Those already done with picking were winterizing vineyards with equal intensity. The weather is bringing the harvest to an end for most, but not all.

1) We finished picking last Tuesday, so the rain forecast is not an issue for our harvest. Please remember that finishing picking is not the same as finishing with crush. We still have punch-downs, pump-overs and pressing.

However, since last Monday I’ve worked long hours getting the vineyards winterized in anticipation for the first rains. One or even two inches is perfect for that first rain, enough to germinate the cover crop, but not so much to cause erosion – three to eight inches is keeping me awake at night!

2) This storm is not like the first one which was early in the season, minimal rain (1/4 inch) and we all knew there would be much more warm weather. This storm is much different – it is some 3 weeks later, fall is now upon us, while there may be more warm weather it is not a given as it was three weeks ago. Additionally, this is no ordinary storm, the prediction is from 3-8 inches of rain, with up to 60 mph gusts. I heard that it’s been 47 years since the first storm of the year had this intensity. It the forecast is right, then it will be several days before you can get into the vineyard. Add the chance of a second or even a third storm and now you have real problems. Additionally, we’re losing about 3 minutes of daylight per day, so three weeks ago we had an additional hour of daylight. Also, the mornings are colder – last Monday (one week ago) several Howell Mountain vineyards were frosted – some as low as 29 degrees. The weather gods are conspiring to tell us that summer is over and winter is coming on hard. BTW, I’ve noticed a tremendous number of Black Oak acorns this year which some folk think portends a wet and cold winter. Some will gamble and hope for better weather, most will not.

I think it’s fairly easy to say that most of us welcomed the first storm and are fearful of this second one, at least I am.

Hopes this helps understand why farming is so much fun!

Full coverage can be found at the Harvest 2009 category.

[techtags: Napa, Napa Valley, wine, winery, harvest 2009, 2009 napa harvest, 2009 napa wine grape harvest]

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has written 726 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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