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Heat brings Napa Valley harvest forward

As harvest 2013 progresses in Napa Valley, winemakers are reporting that red grape picking is immediately following, and at times simultaneously being picked with, the wineries’ white grapes.

A heat spike the second week of September accelerated sugar ripeness in grapes around the valley, bringing an already early year forward. Some of the first reds to be harvested are Pinot Noir, Merlot and Malbec.

Kristin Belair, winemaker of Honig Winery, said that the winery’s Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc pickings wrapped up just as the reds were ready for harvesting — with no break between the two. Reds here, are three weeks earlier than in 2012.

Ken Bernards of Ancien Winery in the Coombsville appellation reports that Syrah and Merlot were brought in at the end of the same week it was harvesting Chardonnay. Ancien’s Pinot Noir is already fermented dry and pressed.

At Beaulieu Vineyards, this is the first time the winery is bringing in Cabernet Sauvignon before all the Chardonnay is harvested.

Signorello Estate winemaker, Pierre Bierbent, says that his whites and a bit of Pinot Noir were in as of this past weekend, and expects to pick everything, including his Cabernet Sauvignon, by 10 October.

Jeff Keene, winemaker at Cornerstone Cellars, brought in Merlot from Oakville (Oakville Station) last week followed by Merlot from Carneros (Stewart Ranch) this past Sunday. The last of its whites, Pinot Gris from Oakville, were harvested this past week as well. All of its Cabernet Sauvignon is still on the vine. One of the few wineries making a dedicated rosé, Cornerstone has not yet picked its Syrah which is grown specifically for its rosé wine. Keene calls the Syrah vineyard, on Dry Creek Road, a special site with clay soils in the Oak Knoll district.

Not all wineries are busy picking reds. Mike Lamborn of Lamborn Family Vineyards on Howell Mountain expects to wait another week or so before picking Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. Timing is still earlier than last year; the 2013 harvest is three weeks ahead of 2012.

What to Expect

The marine influence is once again adding its cooling effects to areas throughout the valley. This will provide Cabernet Sauvignon and other reds still on the vine with, as winemaker Pam Starr or Crocker & Starr calls “luxurious hang time” for the steady development of flavours while maintaining balance between sugars and acids.

Some of the Valley’s reds however were pushed to picking-level brix with the early September heat wave. Despite this, picking is being delayed for as long as possible while winemakers wait for the grapes to obtain the desired level of flavour development. This will likely result in some generous alcohol levels in the 2013 wines, but we continue to watch as the Napa Valley harvest develops.

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