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Wines looking 'fabulous' as early harvest winds up in Napa Valley

October 22, 2013|By S. Irene Virbila
  • Dawn greets an early-morning picking crew in the Napa Valley.
Dawn greets an early-morning picking crew in the Napa Valley. (Jason Tinacci / Napa Valley…)

The harvest is almost finished in Napa Valley and in terms of quantity, it’s turning out to be an average year. In terms of quality, though, winemakers are pretty much ecstatic about the 2013 vintage. 

Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena says it was like the good old days, “really great fruit and basically no headaches at all. If we could have ordered the weather a la carte, we couldn’t have had it any better.”

Often vintages come in waves, he says. “This one was just a parade. Battleship row.” The grapes from the vineyards just kept coming and they were running out of fermenting tanks. But a rain gave them the 48-hour break they needed. 

Curious about the early harvest, he went back through the Chateau’s 40 years of records, analyzed the start and the end dates and determined that 2013 had the fifth earliest start date and seventh earliest finish.

What is extraordinary, he says, is the bright berry flavors that are showing across the board in both white and red varietals. Usually one year favors one or the other. “It’s an exciting vintage.”

Steve Ventrello of Parador Cellars reports 2013 is the best harvest since 1998 when he started. "It was especially curious that this was the first year we harvested Cabernet before Tempranillo (which got its name from being an early ripening variety "temprano"). I brought the Cab in on Sept. 20 and the Tempranillo on Sept. 28."

Meanwhile Jeff Morgan of Covenant Wines characterizes the vintage as "fabulous. We weren’t plagued by anything. We had this beautifully consistent sunshine and moderate temperatures, the kind of temperatures that grapevines like -- between 80 and 95 degrees with cool nights." 

In a report on the vintage from the Napa Valley Register newspaper, Volker Eisele of Eisele Vineyards in the Chiles Valley district is quoted as saying, “It is the earliest finish in years. We are at least two weeks ahead of normal. This concludes a year that was in many ways easy and did not present any real problems, yet the year was overshadowed and heavily influenced by the driest weather since Jan. 1 in 114 years. The idea that we have not had any real rain since the first of the year is hard to imagine. Ultimately this is the real explanation for the lower yields than last year’s.... However, all the quality parameters pointed to excellence and if one wants to venture a guess it will turn out to be a very good vintage; whether it is a great one remains to be seen. ” 

According to the Napa Valley Vintners, a nonprofit trade association that promotes the Napa Valley appellation and represents nearly 500 Napa Valley wineries, winegrowers started picking grapes as early as Aug. 1. That’s because the weather this year brought a warm, dry spring and early bud break. The summer continued with more warm, even heat and only one real heat spike in late June and early July.

It did rain — briefly — during the harvest in September, but the grapes that hadn’t already been harvested, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, dried out quickly and the rain did not affect the quality.

The warm, dry weather has allowed grapes on hillside vineyards to ripen slowly, some hanging on the vine until now. When this harvest wraps up next week, it will still be about two weeks earlier than those of the past decade.

For the first time this year, Napa Valley Vintners put up harvest videos from different parts of the valley on their site. Though the harvest is nearly over, watching a few gives a better idea of how 2013 went. 


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