Vintage 2011- 9-29-2011- To Pick or Not to Pick?
The pace of harvest in Napa Valley has really picked up with the recent nice weather and forecasters threatening rain for next week. The weather has actually been blissful with nice warm days for most of the past ten days. Much of Napa’s Sauvignon Blanc has been harvested, as has a significant amount of Pinot noir.
The Sauvignon Blanc yields are low, but slightly higher than some people had expected. The chemistry has been ideal and so have the lovely flavors which have finally turned from green apple and pear profiles to more melon and tropical flavors.
The Pinot noir yields are even lower than expected, tragically low for people who are making ends meet with their Pinot noir vineyards. There has been some loss due to the recent heat, but overall yields have been reduced due to prior bad weather during bloom. However, the quality looks incredible. The berries are tiny, flavors are mature and concentrated, seed count is low, and seeds are brown and mature, and all of this has occurred at lower sugar levels and slightly higher acids than normal so we can expect elegant and balanced wines.
Earlier lots of Chardonnay have also been harvested, but much of the Chardonnay remains on the vines due to high acids and low Brix. Chardonnay blocks experiencing rains will be at risk of developing molds such as Botrytis due to their tight cluster structure. In blocks prone to Botrytis, growers may want to remove extra leaves to allow for better airflow and quicker drying, and may even want to consider a preventative spray. (The picture above shows a Sauvignon Blanc vineyard that we leafed about a week ago to allow some extra sunlight to finish ripening and to allow for easier picking.)
The earliest lots of Bordeaux varieties are being picked this week too. Some Merlot, Malbec, and a little bit of Cabernet is ready. Similar to the Pinot noir, the Bordeaux varieties are showing nice flavors at lower Brix, but many still have some herbaceous characters. Some winemakers are choosing to harvest earlier than they may normally want to due to the threat of pending rain; others are choosing to let their earliest lots hang longer in the hopes that they will be the ripe component of blends as later blocks may not get that ripe in this late vintage. Who knows which strategy is best? Probably a combination is a good idea.
Overall canopies are healthy, and the vineyards look amazing. The main concern is getting the grapes to finish ripening sooner than later. I recommend leafing in later blocks that are still weeks away from harvest. It was good to have left some leaf protection earlier in the season, but now that the risk of a heat wave is minimal, and weather may be turning cooler, it is a good time to get some sunlight directly on these clusters.
The other main concern is how condensed the rest of this harvest is going to be. Cool and possibly wet weather next week will delay the harvest of the remaining fruit, and once the warm weather returns, it will be a scramble to get everything harvested at once. Hopefully wineries have enough space and there is enough labor to get it all done!
Let’s keep our fingers crossed for these forecasted rain events to be minimal or non-existent, and for nice weather to return soon after since we have the possibility for a high quality vintage. Let’s bring it in!