By 12:30 p.m. we were finished picking, and the temperature never rose above 80 degrees, still 20 degrees below what it had been the year earlier. And with 28 lug boxes filled to well above the rim, we had about 90 gallons of wine after crushing (in a small, home-wine-maker's crusher).
Then Joel, Duncan, Holstein and others pulled off their shoes and leaped into the square fermenting box to squish the grapes with bare feet--considered the gentlest means of getting the fermentation started with good color extraction from the grape skins.
Then we added a prepared yeast strain developed in France that seems to generate a strong fermentation, and we walked away. In little more than a week, we'd have wine.
"I can't say what kind of flavor we'll get," said Tor Kenward as we had an Italian-style harvest luncheon at Tra Vigne. "But the juice looks good." With our luncheon we opened a bottle of Cabernet that Tor made in 1983 and a bottle of the 1986 Cabernet that he and my family harvested in 1986 in honor of Molly's birth year. These wines were celebrating their sixth and third birthdays, respectively.
Picking Cabernet after a rain-filled harvest year is always risky, but Steinhauer noted that Cabernet is a thin-clustered grape variety and the cool winds that ran through the Napa Valley following the last storm in late September this year dried out the bunches and that helped to prevent rot.
This is as good a rationalization as any for planting Cabernet in regions that get moisture during the harvest.
Beckstoffer pointed out that some Cabernet vineyards were actually helped by the rains. The rain washed dust off leaves and gave the vines a shot of water they needed.
Stu Smith at Smith-Madrone Vineyards, high above St. Helena, said his Cabernet was one of his best ever.
So four days after harvesting Cabernet at Beringer, I drove to the top of Spring Mountain Road and down the rocky trail toward Smith-Madrone.
There, Charlie and Stu Smith, the brothers who built this remote winery on the slope of the hillside with the 180-degree view, squirted some 1989 Cabernet out of a fermenting tank into a glass. Fermentation hadn't yet finished.
The color was as dark and violet-blue-black as anything I've seen, and the aroma, still jam- and grape-like, offered intense fruit richness, more than anything I have tasted so soon after the harvest.
"This could be our best Cabernet yet," said Charlie, even though he is a big fan of his winery's recently released 1985 Cabernet ($15), a wine of fullness and rich fruit with a decided Bordeaux leaning.
So despite the dire predictions following the rains, California's 1989 harvest may yet prove to be successful.
\o7 Wine of the Week: \f7 1988 Beaulieu Vineyard Dry Sauvignon Blanc ($8.50)--Stylish lemony fruit with a hint of lemon-grass spice and a fresh, melon aftertaste make this one of the best straightforward Sauvignon Blancs on the market. Often seen at $7 a bottle, it's an excellent wine to match with shellfish.