Log In / Join Now

California's 2007 Vintage Winds Down With Cool, Wet Weather

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Oct 15, 2007 12:02pm ET

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.”

Roy Piper
Napa, CA. —  October 15, 2007 2:49pm ET
In cooler areas like the mountains (Howell, Spring) and in Southern Napa (Coombsville,) there are still plenty of Cab grapes hanging, including my own. Cab can survive rain pretty well, and I see after this little rainstorm coming through now, it should be mostly sunny for another week. In most of the valley floor and on the East, afternoon sun facing hillsides, one could have picked before the rains and done well, but If I had picked before the storms I would have had green flavors I was trying to excise. But even now those flavors are in retreat and the berries are softening. As long as I can avoid mold, I will let them hang longer.
Frank Ostini
Buellton, CA —  October 15, 2007 11:40pm ET
All of us here in Santa Barbara consider ourselves extremely lucky, since the bad weather of this time of year up north has again missed us. As the days shorten the forecast is some nice sunshine and the last grapes out should achieve desired ripeness. Just as Jim eluded to above, I know the best growers and winemakers almost always make exceptional wines regardless of the weather. Roy, and the rest of you brave souls up north, in N. Cal and Oregan, we wish you the best of luck in your noble efforts.
Monticello Vineyards
Napa, California —  October 16, 2007 12:07am ET
In a sense, we've had two harvests this year from our vineyards in the Oak Knoll District. A relatively early crush of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in early September - and another of Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Franc over the last few weeks. We picked Cabernet Sauvignon from our State Lane Vineyard in Yountville last Tuesday.Our tanks are all full for the first time this harvest, and the fermentations are bursting with fantastic flavors and aromas. The cellar crew is still full of good vibes even after a few recent long nights - and we're looking forward to our season-end carnitas! This is such a great time of year !Chris Corley
Paul Anderson
Longview, TX —  October 18, 2007 11:22am ET
James - Thank you for continuing to provide this kind of insight into the process of producing the precious juice. It adds an enjoyable dimension to the experience.

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.