Friday’s steady rain made ducks, lawns and sturgeon fishermen happy, but not anxious North Coast vintners.
The weekend weather turned appreciably warmer and allowed vineyard crews to swarm through the vines in what one vintner described as “panic picking” in Napa Valley.
Vintage 2007, while still not officially over for those brave hearts still hanging their crops, will go down in the record books as a mixed and challenging year for many parts of California.
But it’s always important to remember that you judge the wines by their quality, not by the weather, and while it might be raining in one part of the state (or a country), it might be sunny elsewhere. And despite Friday’s steady rain, and cool overcast weather today, the grapes still have a fighting chance.
As I watched puddles form in the parking lot outside my office in Napa on Friday, Scott McLeod sent one last note on his harvest at Rubicon Estate, in Rutherford, in the heart of Napa Valley.
You will recall McLeod’s forecast about 2007's potential early on, and from what his e-mail indicated, he is happy with this year’s harvest.
Thursday “was our last official day of the Rubicon harvest,” McLeod wrote. “Our harvest crew picked an unbelievable 40.7 tons of Cabernet with only 19 men yesterday!! I can only say how thankful I am for their contribution as the forecast for more rain was on my radar and the only thing between picking the last of our Rubicon-quality Cabernet and the new weather system was our vineyard staff.”
“It has been a great year with plenty of drama in October. We had an early budbreak following a dry winter. As it turns out, the early start to the season was telling of the early end of the season that we are now experiencing. In actuality, the length of the 2007 growing season is as long as or longer than normal and the growing season itself was exceptional.”
“We simmered all summer long, then stir fried the last week of August and the first week of September. Then the cool weather returned and allowed for the final three weeks of hang time in ideal conditions. Once we start to see the basal leaves on the vines turn yellow, that is our sign that the ripening period is over and the harvest period was upon us.”
“This early start to the rainy season is very welcome after the dry year last year. Let's hope everyone was able to get his or her grapes in before this last rain. A great harvest depends on the fact that most wineries make great wine in a given vintage and not just a handful of producers. At Rubicon Estate, every tank is now full with fermenting Cabernet and quality looks to be excellent, with pure flavors of red and black cherry and cassis, classic Rutherford characters.”
And then there’s this note from Frank Ostini, of Hitching Post, in Santa Barbara County, where vintners are all—or mostly all—smiles, with what he termed an ideal harvest.
“A generally small crop was behind normal in ripening by a couple of weeks. Some vineyards, like Bien Nacido had a yield that was one-half of usual, other vineyards had fairly normal yields. The short heat wave of Labor Day got a few Pinot vineyards pushed to ripeness, but most were ready in the later half of September or the first week of October.
“ It seems to me that we are achieving ‘ripe flavors’ at lower sugar levels, and our alcohols will be .5 to 1 percent lower than the pre-‘05 recent vintages. All of our Pinot is in the winery, and most of our Syrah. The short rain of last evening was barely enough to hold down the dust. This week we'll finish Syrah and with patience and a few warm days, start Cabernet Franc and Merlot, then Grenache, Sangiovese and Refosco. So far it seems that every vineyard has produced superior quality this year: great color, beautiful fruit, fine balance.”
DISCLAIMER: "Us winemakers always gush about the new wines,” Frank admitted, “but you have to understand we have been working very hard putting our hearts and soul into our endeavors, but most of all we have once again just fallen in love with our new vintage.”