Tel Button

Harvest Recap 2008

If you heard a loud “Whoppee!!!” coming from the general direction of Yountville on October 8th, it was probably our Winemaker, Geoff Gorsuch, as he tipped the last box of grapes into the hopper. It’s always a big relief to know the crop is safely “in the barn” and to stop worrying about the weather, the sugar, flavor maturity, etc.

This year, it was particularly meaningful to finally get the last grape out of harm’s way. While, most years, we have delightfully agreeable, predictable weather, as we wrote in the August 25 update, this year Mother Nature chose to remind us of who’s boss and threw us some significant curve balls by way of frost, heat, wind, rain and smoke. Bottom line: Beautiful fruit, just not enough of it.

Napa County has estimated the total crop loss at about 10% but most growers believe that’s a conservative estimate. At our Goosecross Estate we’re down about 30% from the original estimate and our Howell Mountain vineyard was down by about half of normal.

Early spring frost and difficult weather, later, during bloom, took grapes away from us and somewhat dry conditions shrank the size of the ones we harvested. We can’t call this a drought year, with 2/3 our normal rainfall, but the vines seemed to think so after two relatively dry seasons. Normally our Cabernet Sauvignon look like small blueberries at maturity. This year they looked more like oversized, purple peas. While this further decreases our yield, it’s quite good for flavor intensity. Large grapes are plump with water, so the increased skin-to-juice ratio on a year like this bodes well for deep color and rich flavor concentration.

After getting through the springtime challenges, overall, we had a mild growing season punctuated by occasional short blasts of heat.

Some of our neighbors were surprised to find themselves harvesting as much as three weeks early and ahead of the sparkling wine growers. Sparkling wine usually comes in first, because the grapes are harvested at lower sugars, but this was just another quirk in this idiosyncratic growing season. For us, harvest started at about the same time it did in 2007 and we kicked off our crush on August 27 with Chenin Blanc.

Things shifted into high gear all over the valley just after Labor Day because of a couple of short heat waves. Triple-digit temperatures, coupled with a small crop brought a lot of varieties in almost simultaneously. If you take a look at the harvest calendar on our website you can see that Geoff barely had time to breathe with all those vineyards coming in so quickly.

There was quite a cool-down, later in the month, just in time to save the grapes from dehydration. Everyone took a breath and a break as the sugars came down. Like many growers, we had nearly everything harvested by the end of the month. Virtually all vineyards, valley wide, were completely harvested by the end of October, which seemed early, but brought a very welcome end to a season that presented far more challenges than local growers are accustomed to.

As he finished pressing the last of the Syrah, Geoff summarized our harvest this way: “The story of the year, of course, is the low yields. We’re just not used to this kind of loss around here. But, there’s a bright side, too, and it’s the beautiful balance and flavor intensity in the young wines. The whites are bright and lively and the reds have incredible concentration. There won’t be much out there, but it will be worth seeking it out.” Click here for the reports from August 25 or July 1.