Well it’s that time of year again when we start thinking about the upcoming harvest. In the winery we are just finishing up the last of the bottling season. We have a couple more Single Vineyards to go, and Trilogy, and that’s about it.
Preparations are being made in the cellar for the upcoming harvest – equipment maintenance, bin cleaning, sorting table set-up, etc. We’re starting to feel the buzz!
In the vineyard, as you will see from the photos, we are fully underway with veraison. About 80-90% of the grapes at the Komes Ranch (our Estate Vineyard) are through, except for the Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, which are only at about 10%. Most of the Cabernet blocks started veraison around July 24th. They progressed slowly during the last week of July, but colored quickly the first week of August. Our Crossroads Ranch is similar in veraison percentage, although our Sauvignon Blanc is through 100%.
While we have had high afternoon temperatures, most mornings have been relatively cool and/or foggy, and we haven’t experienced the intense heat we had at this time last year. Current vineyard activities include cluster counting (to get accurate crop estimates), fruit thinning (for a more balanced vine that leads to greater fruit quality), leaf thinning (to open up the canopy to allow more exposure and better air flow), measuring vine water status, and scouting for canopy or fruit problems. We also do leaf blade sampling – taking samples of the leaf tissue to determine if there are any nutrient deficiencies. Finally, we’re putting up shade cloths on specific vineyard blocks that are more vulnerable to direct sunlight to protect clusters from sunburn.
We’re seeing a somewhat heavier than normal crop load this year, which is probably more like an average crop load in that we’ve had many years of below average yields due to the drought. So far everything is looking terrific, and we look forward to another great harvest!
The cool and rainy spring slowed the start of the growing season at all of the Flora Springs ranches. Bud break started several weeks later than the past several harvests, however, this additional span provided more time for the vineyard crew to conduct other activities. One of which was to apply a compost tea to all of the ranches to stimulate soil microbial populations. Discing has recently been conducted at all the ranches as well. Jenny Rohrs, our Viticulturist, is examining the vines block by block to prioritize which ones will be suckered and leafed first.
In the winery, we are just finishing up our annual “Musical Barrel” routine – whereby, we move all the past years vintage into the cave, and move the previous year’s vintage (2016 in this case) into our barrel room. As noted previously, this enables us to draw from these barrels more efficiently when making blends prior to bottling. We continue to top the barrels in both the cave and barrel buildings. The wine experiences a certain amount of natural evaporation – roughly 5% or more over the barrel aging process. To ensure the barrel does not have any headspace, which would result in oxidation over time, we top them up every 3 weeks throughout the entire aging period. We are also getting into the start of the bottling season. We have bottled the Pinot Grigio and Rosé, and will be bottling the Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnays over the next several weeks.
We’re excited to release our first wine from the 2017 vintage, our 2017 Napa Valley Pinot Grigio. 2017 was a momentous year in Napa Valley, and we know there will be a lot of curiosity about the vintage. Following is our take on the growing season and vintage, including the wildfires that affected so many in our community. Despite many challenges, we think that 2017 will go down in history not only for the wildfires but for the high quality of the 2017 vintage and wines.
2017 began with winter rain, and lots of it, enough to fill reservoirs, replenish groundwater and bring a five year drought in California to an end. Our spring weather was mild, and due to the abundance of water the vines experienced vigorous growth. We were vigilant about canopy management, going through our vineyards and removing excess leaves to ensure the developing grapes had adequate sunlight and air flow. With just a few summer heat spikes, it first appeared that harvest would proceed at a normal pace, but a heat wave over Labor Day weekend hastened picking during the first two weeks of September. Cooler temperatures arrived in mid-September, giving our red fruit extra time on the vine. Overall though, harvest was early in 2017; the last of Flora Springs’ grapes were harvested on Saturday, October 7.
Of course it’s impossible to look back at the 2017 harvest without remarking on the tragic wildfires that affected Napa Valley and neighboring growing regions. At Flora Springs we are enormously grateful to the first responders, law enforcement, community leaders, organizations and volunteers who worked tirelessly to keep our communities safe. We are also incredibly blessed, or perhaps lucky, that our grapes had all been picked prior to the start of the fires on October 8. We were not alone in this good fortune. Damage to Napa Valley wineries and vineyards was not widespread, as the fires burned predominantly in the forested hillsides. The Napa Valley floor between Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail – where our estate winery and vineyards are located – saw little to no impact. In fact, less than 10 percent of Napa Valley’s wineries and less than 8 percent of vineyards experienced direct damage from the fires, and it’s estimated that 90 percent of the total grape tonnage was picked before the fires started.
Still, we know that wine enthusiasts will have lingering questions about the effect of the fires on the grape harvest, and particularly about what is known as smoke taint. A brief explanation: a wine with smoke taint will have a distinct, unpleasant taste that is often compared to a campfire or ashtray. Unlike “smoky aromatics” that might arise from a wine’s contact with an oak barrel, smoke taint is strong and acrid, dominating the sensory characteristics of the wine. Smoke taint can occur when un-picked grapes come into contact with wildfire smoke; the smoke penetrates the grape skins and its compounds can be activated upon fermentation. In this way, even grapes that do not smell or taste smoky can yield a smoke-tainted wine. Rest assured that the few Napa Valley vintners who harvested fruit after the fires were hyper-aware of the possibility of smoke taint and have done everything possible to ensure only the highest quality 2017 wines go to market.
Now back to the quality of the 2017 vintage: for the vast majority of vintners who harvested their grapes prior to the fires there’s a shared sense of excitement about the wines from 2017, most of which are still in barrel. Says Winemaker Paul Steinauer, “Although our yields were somewhat smaller, the 2017 wines are already showing concentration and richness. The whites have bright, fresh flavors and the reds are saturated in color with powerful fruit flavors. There’s no reason to believe this vintage will not rank among the finest of the decade.”
Looking back, the 2017 wildfires challenged our community in innumerable ways, but also demonstrated our shared spirit of strength and resilience. At Flora Springs, in addition to being humbled by our good fortune and the outpouring of generosity from our friends around the world, we’re excited to open the chapter on the 2017 vintage.
We have officially picked all of our Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc for the year. We started the Pinot Grigio on August 15th, and finished the Sauvignon Blanc on August 31st.
We then started harvesting the Lavender Hill Chardonnay in Carneros on September 6th. The very next day, we received Merlot from the Estate. This is the earliest date on record for reds.
The last week was pretty crazy…Phoenix-like temperatures in the 115 degree range! On top of that, the valley was blanketed with smoke from a fire burning in Butte County. Fortunately, both have subsided and we are back to average harvest temperatures once again…at least for the time being.
We will be bringing in additional Merlot, as well as Petit Verdot from Oakville, on Monday and Tuesday. Then we will finish up with the last of the white grapes on Wednesday.
The harvest has been pretty fast and furious thus far – keeping things exciting. We were very proactive with our irrigation regimen before and during the heatwave, so the fruit is still in excellent condition. We are extremely pleased with the quality thus far, and expect to make some fantastic wines!
Note: The following was excerpted from an article written by David Stoneberg and published in The Weekly Calistogan. The full article can be found here.
The winter, with its abundant rain and the ensuing growing season that was perfect for ripening wine grapes has many growers optimistic about the 2017 harvest. For some, workers are already harvesting their sauvignon blanc and chardonnay grapes; others, though, are waiting for the first grapes to cross the crushpad…
Oakville – Linda Neal, grower, Tierra Roja Vineyard, “Yount Mill kicked off the Oakville season on Aug. 9, harvesting for sparkling wines, with other white varietals quickly following, reports Kendall Hoxsey-Onysko. Turnbull follows with sauvignon blanc at the winery on Aug. 23. Winemaker Peter Heitz writes, “The flavors are fantastic!” Flora Springs may have started two days later, but did so with a saber flourish as winemaker Paul Steinauer christens the first load…”
Over that past few weeks our vineyards have been abuzz with activity. As farmers, our family constantly tends to the vineyards which means meticulous care for every vine throughout our properties in Napa Valley.
With the immense amount of rainfall received over winter, we are seeing a lot more vigor than in previous vintages. Earlier this month we kept busy with leaf removal and shoot positioning to foster adequate light through the canopy and properly see each cluster to maturity. Things are looking great out there and we anticipate a bumper crop for the 2017 vintage.
Over the years, my family has acquired nearly 350 acres of vineyards – which means we have spent much time planting and replanting vines. The newest of late, is the replanting of a 15-acre fallow block on our Crossroads Ranch to Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 2. We anticipate this vineyard to come to fruition in the next 3-to-5 years with excellent Oakville fruit. Stay tuned!
“Well, it’s that time of year again – The drought appears to be behind us, at least for the moment. Since the New Year, we have received more rainfall than we average for the entire year. Fortunately, all of Flora Springs vineyards drain quite well, and this has supplied much needed water to top off all of our reservoirs as well as adding to our water table. Between the rains, we did experience some warm days. This is when the starch in the vines post dormancy, converts to sugar, where sap begins to flow through the vine. As the days become warmer, buds start to swell, and finally burst, creating a new shoot.
What you see in this picture is bud break on our Malbec vineyard at Komes Ranch at Flora Springs Estate. In about 6 months, grapes from these vines will make their way to the winery, and eventually find their way into Trilogy.” – Winemaker Paul Steinauer
We started the harvest on Aug 16th picking Pinot Grigio in the Oak Knoll appellation, and we just finished on Tuesday, Oct 11th with Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville appellation – so just about a 2 month harvest.
All in all, it was a terrific harvest! We experienced a very light amount of rain that did not affect the grapes at all. We only had a few days with any unusual heat spikes. We are however, very glad to be finished, in that there is a significant amount of rain in the forecast from Friday through Monday. There are many wineries that are forced to leave their fruit out through the rains, and again, a relief to not be one of them.”
—Winemaker Paul Steinauer
“Well, Mother Nature once again threw us a bit of a curve ball – We experienced 3 days around 100F, then it cooled off and actually had some showers on Sunday & Monday this week. The good news is that none of that has effected the grapes to any degree at all. We have harvested approximately 80% of our fruit thus far and the remaining grapes will be brought in by the end of next week. We have a handful of blocks on the Komes Ranch in the Rutherford Appellation – Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc. We also have a few blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon at our Crossroads Ranch in the Oakville Appellation as well. We are just waiting for these blocks to garner a more complex flavor profile before we pick them.”
—Winemaker Paul Steinauer
“We started our first day of harvest on Aug 16, 2016 with our Pinot Grigio, then segued into our Sauvignon Blanc on Aug 19, and completed our last Sauvignon Blanc harvest on Aug 26. We will now have roughly a 2-week window between our next picks, particularly with the cooler weather we are experiencing.
We have a new planting of Chardonnay at our Lavender Hill vineyard that is about 2 weeks away. Also, we have Merlot at the Komes Ranch at the Flora Springs Estate that is approximately 2 weeks away as well.
The Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc are fermenting at the moment. In the first photo, you will see a Sauvignon Blanc fermentation taking place in a temperature controlled stainless steel tank – These grapes were picked at 23.4 brix, and is currently at 5 brix. As the yeast consumes the sugars, you get approximately .6% alc per brix, so the current alcohol is about 10.4%, and once the yeast has consumed all the sugars, the final alcohol will be roughly 13.9%. We ferment at 55 degrees F, and the process takes roughly 3 weeks or so. We raise the temperature towards the end of fermentation as to prevent yeast stress and ensure the fermentation will reach completion.
In the second photo you will see some 60 gallon oak barrels, as well as some 135 gallon oak puncheons that are being used to ferment Sauvignon Blanc as well. You will notice a series of stainless tubing connected by glycol hoses. We have this manifold system connected to a thermostat where we are able to control the temperature of the fermentation just like in the tank. The plastic bag you see on top, just seal the bung holes, will allow CO2 from the fermentation to escape.”