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!
As a vintner, one of the questions I’m asked most often is: “Is this going to be a good year?” The reviewer, of course, is referring to the condition of the grapes. My response is that growing grapes is kind of like a football game. They both have four quarters.
The first quarter – or season – is winter. In football, the first quarter involves deciding what game plan to use after seeing your opponent on the field. Winter for the grape farmer is much the same, analyzing the rainfall and pruning the vines to get the desired outcome. The way you prune – and the number of spurs you leave on the vine – determines the amount and quality of the fruit you’ll get. In football, similarly, the first quarter determines what formation best suits the situation.
The second quarter is spring. Now the game gets interesting. The farmer must play defense, protecting the vines from frost and wind. Either condition can change the whole offensive game plan, causing damage or loss of the tender young buds and flowers that eventually turn into fruit. Either of these would be akin to losing your star running back, something to avoid as much as humanly possible.
At half time the farmer pauses to consider the crop load and canopy management techniques. At this point, with the end game in site, efforts should be directed at the highest possible quality of fruit, not necessarily the greatest quantity.
The third quarter is summer. Things happen quickly during this phase. The clusters take shape and the grapes go through verasion (when they soften and, with red grapes, change color). The farmer prays for warm days, cool nights and low humidity. He or she must determine when to water and how best to prune the vine canopies so that the grapes get enough sunlight to ripen but not burn. The third quarter of the football game is also a show of force, a time to determine the strength of your team and the weakness of your opponent and let them play to their capabilities.
Then there’s the fourth quarter. At the end of the third quarter of Super Bowl 2017, if you were to ask the Atlanta Falcons coach if this was going to be “a good year,” he would have had a positive reply. The fourth quarter is crucial. You either have a maintenance strategy or a go-for-broke strategy. In grape farming, if the weather is favorable and the fruit looks good, it’s a matter of maintaining your position with a little crop management, dropping a little under-ripe fruit to encourage uniform ripening. But if the weather changes and rains are on the horizon, you might try to hasten ripening by dropping lots of fruit, hoping that a smaller crop will ripen more quickly. If it does rain, you can try to keep the berries dry, but if the berries break down before picking, you know how the Atlanta Falcons felt after Super Bowl 2017.
So you see, farmers never know how a vintage will turn out until the fruit is picked and the game is over. I hope you enjoy your next bottle of wine, and next year’s Super Bowl!
“To ensure we are obtaining only the most premium fruit, we have had to make the difficult decision to replant vineyards when the quality starts to deteriorate due to various forms of vine disease. Two of our Cabernet blocks in our Oakville Crossroads vineyards have recently been pulled out. This vineyard site in Oakville at our Crossroads vineyard had previously been planted to Chardonnay, and has now been re-developed and will be planted to Cabernet very soon.
This is a newly-planted vineyard, also at our Oakville Crossroads vineyards. This was formerly Pinot Grigio, and has also now been planted to Cabernet.
Crews are currently going through all of our vineyard blocks and suckering. Buds, or nodes at the base of the leaves, produce shoots called laterals or suckers. By doing this, more energy is focused on the vine – which increases grape quality. It also keeps the vine off the ground, and helps prevent unwanted molds and various insects.
The area between the nodes, the internodes, are supported with adjustable ties which are attached to guide wires. As the vines mature during the growing season, the guide wires – and thereby the vines – will be raised on the trellis system. The vines will be trained in such a way as to evenly distribute the clusters of fruit, and the canopy of leaves will protect the fruit from direct sunlight in order to prevent burn. The canopy will be open just enough to allow filtered light, as well as sufficient airflow throughout the vineyard.
Finally, we have the start of bloom in our Hillside Reserve Cabernet Vineyard.”
“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.”
“We harvested our first grapes today – Pinot Grigio. Pinot Grigio from a distance looks more like a red grape than a white grape, but they actually have more of a brown skin color to them when harvested. The grapes were picked early morning to take advantage of the cool weather. They are all handpicked and gently poured into 1/2 ton bins.”
“This is from a block of Merlot in the Komes Ranch vineyard at the Flora Springs Estate and these grapes go into the Trilogy blend. Based on the current level of ripeness, I would suspect these grapes will be harvested around the second week of September. We are experiencing a bit of a heat wave at the moment, but the vines are looking strong and healthy.”
—Winemaker Paul Steinauer