With rain in the forecast for Northern California in the next few days, the harvest will accelerate in many quarters. No one expects the rain to cause much concern. But grapes close to full ripeness and susceptible to rain, such as Pinot Noir, will be best harvested sooner than later. No one wants to slosh through another year like 2011.
Heartier grapes, such as Cabernet, can hang. Rain is less an issue than what happens after it. In 2011, the temperatures stayed warm after a series of wet storms, creating an unusual greenhouse effect, which invites mold and bunch rot. Most years, vintners can expect drier weather to follow rain.
Normally, rain at harvest is a dirty word, but it’s less so these days, as the state desperately needs water, and in most areas, every drop counts.
All the winemakers I’ve spoken with are thrilled at how 2014 is shaping up. There’s no such thing as a perfect harvest, yet most have described this year as easier than most. “It’s about as easy as it gets for winemakers,” said Chuck Wagner of Caymus in Rutherford. “There’s some unevenness out there, but that’s to be expected.” Some Zinfandel vineyards, for example, have a mix of riper and greener fruit, he said, but that’s about normal for that variety. Otherwise, most of the grapes across varieties are ripening at an even pace.
Tonnage reports vary too. I’ve heard some say the crop is lighter than normal, or expected, while others say it’s a little heavier. Either way, it will produce enough excellent wine to extend the string of exceptional vintages back to 2012, which in Napa and Sonoma was a record crop. If winemakers can make solid wine in a year as difficult as 2011, as many did, it’s hard to imagine anything less than outstanding this year.
As the grapes come off the vine, winemakers have one good measure of quality: the fruit itself. But most like to wait until the fermentations have finished to get a better idea of what the wines will be like. Most wines will then be headed into oak as well. Irrespective of quality, vintners in Napa won’t forget the Aug. 24 earthquake that jolted southern Napa as harvest started. Many found harvest a welcome relief from the quake-induced stress at wineries that had their cellars rocked.