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2012 Grape Harvest Update

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Napa Valley Grape Harvest Update
The Napa Valley Vintners, a nonprofit trade group representing more than 430 Napa Valley wineries, asked some of its winemaker members to tell us how things are looking in the vineyards as harvest 2012 gets underway. From

This is the 150th anniversary at Schramsberg. We look forward to writing another page in Napa winemaking history. Mother Nature has been kind to us in 2012 as we have one of the most balanced crops in years. The anticipation and excitement for the start of harvest is overwhelming and we are eager to get the party started. Vintage 2012 is going to be Epic! Keith Hock, winemaker, Schramsberg Vineyards

This growing season takes me back to the classic Napa Valley vintages I knew as a teenager, when I worked summers at Louis Martini. The mornings start off with some fog and overcast, by midday it's burned off and the sky is vivid blue. By afternoon we've got heat in the 90s and by five or six o’clock it starts cooling down and if you eat dinner outside you need a jacket. Elias Fernandez, winemaker, Shafer Vineyards

It's mid-August and we are still enjoying a beautiful summer (cue sound of me knocking on wood). Over the past thirty days, the daytime temperature in our vineyard got over 80F on all but three days and only exceeded 100F once. These warm sunny afternoons are perfect for the ripening period. On most nights, the temperature has dropped into the high 40s--which allows the vines to recharge and keeps the grapes fresh. We are well through veraison in Chardonnay and expect to begin harvest just after Labor Day. Veraison has moved very quickly in Cabernet Sauvignon, even faster than Merlot. This may be because Cabernet naturally set a balanced crop this year. Merlot, on other hand, seems to have been a bit over-ambitious requiring us to drop a considerable amount of fruit during multiple thinning passes. Jon Ruel, Director of Viticulture & Winemaking, Trefethen Family Vineyards

So far--knock on wood--we haven't been thrown for any curves. We didn't have frost in spring, we didn't have cold weather during bloom or set, we haven't experienced extreme heat that would sunburn the fruit, and there's been no rain. And after 28 years of making Stags Leap District wines I can tell you, grapes do not like surprises--they like long stretches of consistent weather and as the season progresses, we look forward to that see-saw of daytime heat and nighttime cooling which will create a beautiful balance of sugars and acidity.

Right now we're about 95 to 100 percent finished with veraison. We're doing a little irrigation where needed--doling out just enough water to keep the grapes healthy and on track for maturation.

Our main vineyard work now is green harvesting, culling fruit that's not hitting a high mark with regard to color and ripeness. In Olympic terms, we only want to harvest gold-medal fruit, so we're pretty severe about how much fruit we're dropping to the ground.

Next week we'll start sampling fruit and zeroing in on which blocks we'll likely be picking first. At this point I expect to start picking here in Stags Leap District by the second week in September which is about two weeks earlier than in 2011 or 2010. Elias Fernandez, winemaker, Shafer Vineyards

Apart from a handful of temperature spikes this has been a marvelous growing season with very cool nights and sunny days comfortably in the high 80s and low 90s. There's been very low mildew pressure all season which is heavenly compared to last year. I found the first bloom in our Cabernet Sauvignon on May 22nd, veraison began two months later. We're very close to full veraison this week. Right now we're still positioning shoots and pruning off extra fruit to bring the vines into harmony. In the cellar the sort, crush, and ferment equipment is getting a dusting off and annual tune-up. We're doing our final racking before harvest sets in. Julie Johnson, owner/winemaker Tres Sabores

At Schweiger Vineyards, at the top of the Spring Mountain District, we are just starting verasion. The recent heat wave has really moved things along, and it is nice to have a classic growing season. Despite record heat across most of the country, this has been a beautiful growing season in Napa Valley. Our Cabernet Sauvignon set is a little light, probably 90 percent of normal, while our Malbec and Merlot are fantastic! Cabernet Franc was heavy and required a bit of fruit drop/management pre-verasion. Chardonnay crop is normal and very promising. Right now, I'm estimating a late September/early October start for harvest.Andy Schweiger, winemaker, Schweiger Vineyards

Here at Oakville Ranch, the warm days along with the quick bloom this spring set the stage for even crop load through all the varieties. As I talk to vineyard managers and winemakers throughout the valley everyone is smiling and giggling, truly everything looks fabulous as we move into the final weeks. Phil Coturri, vineyard manager, Oakville Ranch Vineyards

The grape crop here in Calistoga is looking great! It is really nice to have a more "normal" vintage after the late harvests of the past few years. This summer's pattern of a hot week followed by a cooler week seems to have been just the ticket--all the vineyards I've looked at seem to be well acclimated to the heat and have healthy canopies. Crop levels are up from average and at this point everything is close to fully colored-up. If this is any indication, I have already started eating the Thompsons seedless from my backyard…. Shouldn't be too long now, but I have to get through this bottling first. Cameron Perry, winemaker, Chateau Montelena


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