Harvest is always full of surprises. No one year is quite like the next.
The action in Napa and Sonoma is building momentum. Winemakers who haven’t set foot in a church in years now talk about their daily prayers.
“It always comes down to those last six weeks,” said Tor Kenward, of Kenward Family Vineyards, when I ran into him in downtown Napa the other day. This is his 30th harvest. Most of those crushes came while at Beringer.
My friend C.J. is starting to log long hours. His company picks the entire spectrum of grapes in Napa Valley, from Sauvignon Blanc, an early ripener, to Cabernet, which typically ripens later.
At this time of year, many winemakers work 18 hours a day, seven days a week.
I suppose my biggest surprise so far this harvest came last week, when I talked with John Wetlaufer, co-owner and vineyard manager for Marcassin. His wife, Helen Turley, is the winemaker. (Check out Wine Spectator Online's video interview with them.)
Wetlaufer told me that most of their Pinot Noir harvest was already done--and this is on the true Sonoma Coast. The sugars, pHs and acidities were perfect, he said. Their Chardonnay will be picked after the Pinot. In other appellations, sometimes it's the other way around.
What caught me is that his vineyard ripened so early. Napa’s big reds are a few weeks away, hanging on the vines for more flavor.
The best line of the harvest so far belongs to Jeff Cohn, of J.C. Cellars and Rosenblum, who stopped by our Napa office this week and told MaryAnn Bovio, my tasting coordinator and one of our writers, that growers are getting antsy.
Everyone, it seems, wants the winemaker to test for sugars, right now, Cohn explained.
While he tastes the grapes for ripeness, before he picks he likes to have grapes tested in the lab.
His reasoning: “Sometimes the grapes taste better in the vineyard.”
Reminds me of the expression “It tasted better at the winery,” which we often use when we’ve tried a wine with a winemaker at the winery and then the wine shows differently in a blind tasting.
The lab is just one more tool to evaluate ripeness and helps Cohn confirm his impressions. It’s not a substitute for tasting; it's more a case of strapping on your seatbelt for safety. While it won’t prevent an accident, it might limit your injuries to a few bumps and bruises.
David Nerland — Scottsdale — September 20, 2006 12:12am ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — September 20, 2006 9:56am ET
Larry Schaffer — Central Coast — September 20, 2006 1:44pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — September 20, 2006 2:55pm ET
Larry Schaffer — Central Coast — September 20, 2006 4:10pm ET
Gloria Maroti — NY, NY — September 24, 2006 6:30pm ET
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