Napa Grapegrowers Cautiously Optimistic About 2010

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vineyard2.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

Despite the doom and gloom forecasts circulating about the 2010 vintage, the Napa Valley Grapegrowers think this year's cool summer doesn't necessarily mean disaster, or even a difficult vintage.  At an August 18th press conference held at Beckstoffer Vineyards' historic Georges III vineyard in Rutherford, the growers discussed their hopes and fears for the harvest this year.  The consensus: it's still too early to call.

Harvest dates vary depending on the grape varietal and location, but typically occur in mid-to-late October for red grapes like cabernet sauvignon.  With harvest still two and a half months away, no one knows how this vintage will turn out.  
pic_08.jpgJohn Conover of Plumpjack Vineyards and CADE Winery is optimistic that warmer weather will move in next month and produce an excellent crop of slowly, evenly ripened fruit.  Conover said that Napa wines are really made in September, when the languorous heat of Indian summer ripens the grapes to full maturity.  Slower maturation through the summer with a hot September finish would produce superior flavor development in the fruit than would a more typical summer of extreme highs and lows.  

David Beckstoffer of Beckstoffer Vineyards agreed, comparing this year's weather patterns to 2005.  The slower ripening that occurred then yielded many excellent wines free of the "green" or vegetal flavors that tend to mark cooler vintages.  To prove the point, Conover poured a 2005 Plumpjack Reserve Oakville cabernet sauvignon full of rich plums, coffee and warmth--perfectly in line with his characterization of Oakville fruit as black Labrador wines, ones that "just want to rub up on you."

vineyard1.jpgAccording to Jon Ruel of Trefethen Family Vineyards, the European grapevine moth poses little threat to the 2010 harvest in Napa, since growers here have had effective measures in place to combat the pest for some time.   But Mary Maher, Vineyard Manager of the Harlan and BOND Estates, predicted that if the weather does heat up significantly, sunburn may be a risk this year. The cool weather this summer prompted many growers to thin out leaves in order to avoid green flavors in the fruit and to open up the canopy for improved ripening.  These unusually exposed grapes could suffer from hot sun in September, and present challenges to the winemaking process.

The biggest harvest risk identified for this year is actually October rain, which would cause grapes to rot on the vine before they attain optimal ripeness.  The growers agreed that veraison seems to be about 1-2 weeks behind last year, and that the grapes may need more time on the vine to fully develop.  Later harvests risk rainy weather and tend to shorten the harvest window, forcing growers to step up their labor and operations to get the grapes in before bad weather hits. The growers noted, however, that the timing of this year's veraison was consistent with years prior to 2009, and not necessarily cause for concern.  

Take-away message: keep your fingers crossed, and hold off on the rain dances for the next three months.

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