Know when to hold’em… Harvest 2011

As our first real rain approaches (we had a minor rain last weekend 9/25), the annual valley pandemonium rears it head as does the harvest of another vintage.

2011 – a third year in a row where we have had a steady cool summer.  Only 2-3 heat spikes, and otherwise moderate temperatures which is great for my wine-country lifestyle, but not the ace-in-the-hole growing conditions that Napa Grape Farmers are accustomed to.  However, in the same breath, being weather dependent I don’t think there is ever a year that the grape growers have nothing to gripe about.   And I am no viticulturist or vinification expert, but I got my money down that 2011 is going to make some awesome wines!   Most of the merlot and zinfandel is in or will be down before this rain.  I have been sneaking my own samples here and there, and the Cab is close to ready as is the Petit verdot and Cab Franc, but in keeping to the known extracted and BIG style of Napa Valley the grapes could use some further maturation.  As an overview, I’d say 66% of the Cab in Napa is still hanging.

Stag’s Leap AVA Map – Zoom In

However, in looking out my back door, I have a cross section of how three of the notable Cab producers are making this call.

Joseph Phelps – Barboza Vineyard
Cliff Lede’s – Andelin VIneyard
Pine Ridge’s – Corner Lot vineyard.

Of these 3 very notable and respected vineyards, Pine Ridge night harvested this weekend 10/1 and 10/2.  I tried their fruit (Cab) and the seeds were brown and crunchy and the flesh of the fruit very good.  But then again, Pine Ridge is a tight trellised 3′ VSP (Vertical shoot position) with the cortons maybe 30″ from the ground.  The Phelps/  Barboza and Cliff Lede Vineyards adjacent, are of an “old-school” trellising and cane system.  They also have a bigger bushier VSP – meaning more sun protection and more time on the vine to get ripe.  These grapes, have bigger clusters, but are a week or 2 behind in their maturation.   And at the end of t he day, neither one method is more superior than the other.  However, there will be a difference in grape flavor profile, especially after the rain.  But here is a nice metaphor I was told about growing grapes.  When growing grapes you want the maturation steady and even, like making a stew or tomato sauce.  The longer you can cook the sauce the better and more even the flavors are going to be.  If you quickly take your sauce to a boil and serve it, the flavors are not going to be integrated and it’d be pretty gross.

Stag’s Leap – Looking West over Cliff Lede Vineyards

Announcing Harvest Live:

And for seasoned experts, they have projected harvest in 3rd week of October, and that is looking like a great harvest date for Napa.  And that is also the time that Harvest Live is set to broadcast the Napa Valley 2011 harvest to the world – LIVE! There will be streaming footage and updates from the mastermind of Harvest Live – Christophe Smith.

Overview of Stony Meadow & Adjacent vineyards

Vintage Notes,

cause after a while they all got confused…

2009 –

Cooler year.  Good looking fruit.  Not a bumper crop but decent.  However due to the cool steady season and the earlier than wanted Oct 11th rain, this rain became the buzzer beater of the vintage.  You either harvested before or after.  There was some mold to deal with if you held out.  But there were some potential green properties to the grapes if you brought the fruit in early.

2010 –

Again a mild season with great potential, if you played your cards right in the vineyard.   The yields and grape bunches looked solid.  Howver, they we re maturing slowly.  And then came the early September heat wave (9/3/10).  Some people cut back their leaf canopy to accelerate ripening, if you did that your fruit fried.  If you left your grapes protected with trust in that the heat would find Napa Valley,  you made the right move and came out with some great fruit.  But of course, there was an earlier than wanted rain and the time-old decision.  Let it ride, or play it safe….  Again – for the people that plated their card right, there will be amazing wines coming from this vintage.

2011 –

A third year in a row for a mild summer.  More mild than past summers.  A late rainy spring disrupted Cabernet flowering and ultimately knocked the yields on Cabernet way down.  (Hail in oak knoll and other spots in the valley decimated some crops).   But the fruit that made it this year, is looking amazing, and was naturally limited so there was not much fruit dropped (at least for Cab) and assuming we get through this first bout of rain, we are looking at smaller yields of amazing wines.

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