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No Rest for the Weary Winemaker

Harvest 2013 is running early in California
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Sep 11, 2013 12:40pm ET

There's a dusty book someplace that lists the California harvests that ran earlier than 2013, but I can't recall many in the 24 years I've lived here. Consider this: Hanzell Vineyards, known for great Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, finished its harvest in Sonoma Valley a week before Labor Day.

That's on the outskirts of the norm but it does show how fast things are moving. The growing season ran early all year, and there's been plenty of sun throughout summer. Warm temperatures to start the month moved things along even faster.

California is too big of a state to use a broad brush. Santa Barbara is different from Napa Valley and Sauvignon Blanc ripens on another schedule than Cabernet Sauvignon. Some winemakers like riper grapes than others. That's true every vintage.

That said, I surveyed winemakers around the state to see how things stood. "It's a steady and even pace," David Ramey said. "It has been perfect weather all season." Nate Weis, winemaker of Antica Napa Valley, added, "The good news is that the long-term weather forecasts show no signs of inclement weather on the horizon."

The Big Picture

If you want a quick view, talk to the winemakers who harvest from around the state. Turley winemaker Tegan Passalacqua has picked about 20 percent of his Zinfandel and Petite Sirah on the North Coast, and while he's just beginning harvest in Amador County, the Paso Robles vineyards need several weeks.

Chuck Wagner has picked about 70 percent of the Sauvignon Blanc for the Wagner Family's Emmolo and Conundrum labels but hasn't picked any Chardonnay for Mer Soleil in Monterey or Cabernet for Caymus in Napa. Adam Lee of Siduri has brought in about 15 percent, mostly Russian River Valley Pinot Noir but a little from Santa Lucia Highlands. Ramey is about a third of the way through Chardonnay in Napa and Sonoma and is beginning to pick hillside Napa Cabernet Franc and Merlot this week.

Paso Robles

Tablas Creek has harvested nearly 20 percent of its grapes, mostly whites, but Syrah is also getting started, according to general manager Jason Haas. Harvest is about 10 days ahead of 2012. Matt Trevisan of Linne Calodo has brought in about 5 percent of his crop and predicts late September and early October will be prime time. Justin Smith of Saxum Vineyards picked a few blocks of hilltop Syrah on Friday and expects crops will be smaller than last year larger than those of 2010 and 2011.

Napa Valley

Winemaker Tom Rinaldi of Hewitt and Provenance Vineyards has picked about 20 percent, most of it Sauvignon Blanc. The bulk of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon will arrive in late September. Duckhorn winemaker Bill Nancarrow has already finished picking Sauvignon Blanc and is beginning to bring in reds this week.

Sierra Foothills

It's hard to typify this mountainous area. Consulting winemaker Marco Cappelli has hit about 10 percent for his various clients. Whites are coming in strong and even Cabernet and Zinfandel will start picking this week. Bill Easton of Terre Rouge and Easton is just getting started. "We have been waiting for the pH shift in some vineyards and flavors to develop to our perimeters."

Anderson Valley / Mendocino

"So far we have barely got the equipment wet," said Goldeneye winemaker Michael Fay, who estimates he has picked about 5 percent of his Pinot Noir. That's cool Anderson Valley for you. Black Kite winemaker Jeff Gaffner doesn't expect any Pinot or Chardonnay until the end of September.

Sonoma County

Sebastiani is just over 5 percent, all of it Sauvignon Blanc, but Pinot Noir moves into high gear this week. Winemaker Mark Lyon said crops are higher than expected across the board. Bob Cabral of Williams Selyem has already picked about 60 percent of its Pinot Noir and has a fifth of its Chardonnay in the winery.

That's but a quick cross-section. It's too early to talk about quality. Every vintage is the best ever according to some winemakers, so I won't go there yet. But I would like to hear from other growers and winemakers. How does it look from where you are?

Tim Fish
Sonoma County —  September 11, 2013 1:48pm ET
A late-breaking comment Navarro winemaker Jim Klein:

We’ve produced a small quantity of sparkling wine and harvested some Sauvignon Blanc. This week it looks like we should have Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir from Boonville, and then Pinot Noir from the Deep End next week.

Tim Fish
Sonoma County —  September 11, 2013 1:50pm ET
Late breaking comment Breggo winemaker Ryan Hodgins

Friday was our first day of harvest in the Anderson Valley with Ferrington Pinot Noir. We will start bringing in Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay this week.
Tim Fish
Sonoma County —  September 11, 2013 1:55pm ET
Michael Scholz, winemaker of St. Supery in Napa Valley, says they have brought in most of the Sauvignon Blanc and a small amount of Chardonnay. The reds need more time.
Robert Larsen
Healdsburg, CA —  September 11, 2013 3:30pm ET
Hey there, Tim. At Rodney Strong, according to our winemaker Rick Sayre and director of wine-growing Doug McIlroy, it's the earliest ever for our Cabernet. It's overlapping Pinot Noir for the first time anyone can remember. They're saying the quality is similar to that of 1997.
Erik Miller
Santa Rosa —  September 12, 2013 7:08pm ET
Hey Tim, We have brought in our SB, Grenache for rose, and Rockpile Zinfandel from Dry Creek area. Most of our Pinot from Russian River and Sonoma Coast is in but only a bit of our Chardonnay. The Zinfandel in Dry Creek is looking great and this cool down is bringing some sugars back but I expect next week to be big for us!
Fred Truex
North Hills, Ca —  September 18, 2013 9:21pm ET
I guess Santa Ynez, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Maria or Santa Barbara aren't worth reports?

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