During each year's harvest, Wine Spectator asks several different winemakers to share their thoughts on the challenges of the season and the quality of the grapes they're picking. Since there are so many factors that can influence the timing and quality of the harvest, ranging from the region to the variety to the experience or opinion of the particular winemaker, it's often difficult to get a true sense of what's happening in the vineyards. This year, Wine Spectator found winemakers who specialize in certain varieties to sound off on their individual, grape-specific experiences—right in the middle of harvest.
Celia Masyczek (pronounced ma-CHESS-key) is a Napa Valley-based independent winemaking consultant who makes wine for some of Napa's most impressive labels, including Scarecrow, DR Stephens, Cornerstone, Hollywood & Vine, Rocca and Keever. (Previous credits include Silverado Vineyards, Robert Pepi and Staglin Family Vineyard.) Masyczek spoke to WineSpectator.com last week, as she counted 100 tons of grapes processed of the estimated 180 tons she will vinify this year. Because she consults for several different labels, she works with vineyards throughout the entire Napa Valley, splitting her time between three different winemaking facilities. Few other winemakers can make such a strong assessment of how a particular variety—in this case, Cabernet—looks for an entire region during the harvest season.
The grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon
The geography: Napa Valley
On the growing season: "Unbelievable. Absolutely incredible flavors. There's definitely the 'yum' factor out there. Acids are staying high, intensifying flavors. I'm really happy with the color, the phenolics. It's really a rare year. Everything looks good, but until it's in, I can't say it's excellent. For some vineyards, it's a challenge because we had a bit of drought last year. Not all the reservoirs filled, and there were challenges with irrigation, [so] we had to be careful. But we have textbook ripeness. It's a vintage where we were getting really, really bright flavors at relatively low sugars. We'll be seeing a wider range of different Cabernet styles, and some very good wines. I think there will be harvest notes that grapes were picked from early to mid-September—and I don't have a crystal ball, but I'm guessing—all the way to mid-October. I think there are going to be great wines made in a lower-alcohol style, too. Because things have stayed cool, it's become one of those harvests where you can pick your moment for the kind of wine you're going to make. So if you're looking for higher acids, and lower sugars—or the opposite—the weather is holding out."
For picking, you need to keep an eye on the sky: "I tend to wake up very early so I can check the weather forecast, look at email, check out my vineyard sampling sheets and try to figure out where to put my attention. For weather information, I look at everything. I listen to the news, look at the [San Francisco Chronicle], and go to various Web sites. I also have a creaky knee, so I know when it will rain. It's a combination of things, really. There's a level of intuition involved, so it's not entirely scientific. So each day I have to figure out what's close, what's not. The vineyard managers call—I've got calls as early as 4 am, and 6 am is not out of the ordinary. They know I'm up."
From numbers to taste buds: "What I look for [to determine when to pick Cabernet] has completely changed. When I was first out of Davis, I always went in the vineyard with a refrectometer. It was all about the numbers, getting the chemistry right. I didn't know how to apply my taste experience. I still have a refrectometer somewhere in the back of my car, but I don't know when the last time was that I pulled it out. It's really now about the taste. I'm looking for that day with the flavor is so intense and magnificent. It's one of those things everyone I know who loves food and wine has an experience of—that childhood experience of biting into the perfect peach, or a strawberry from a garden. You bite into it and it has this incredible flavor. There's nothing you can measure. And you have to trust to know that it will happen, even if it's not there yet. I don't know if it takes someone with a wine degree to do that."
The ebb and flow of harvest 2007: "The biggest day I've had this year is about 30 tons, which is a lot. That's at a level when I'm really pushing my limits of what I can organize. I'm really comfortable doing somewhere between 5 and 15 tons, when I start early and finish at a reasonable time. That's the way this harvest has been—really methodical…. This not only allows me to do things in a measured, steady pace, but it allows for the winery staff to do things without putting in tremendously long hours. Pickers picking at a relaxed pace? It's safer, and there's a higher quality."
Why you should hug your winemaking staff: "This is my 26th harvest. The thing that still amazes me is how many people from so many different walks of life work so hard, from the folks out there predawn harvesting fruit to production managers who are closing down the wineries at 1 am at the end of a harvest day. It's an overwhelming amount of work. Consumers appreciate the final product without understanding how much work is in it."
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