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By November 8, 2018 0 Comments Read More →

Napa Valley’s 2018 Harvest Slips into the Cellar

Heavenly hangtime and phenomenal phenolic development are the defining factors of this vintage

11/8/2018 – St. Helena, CA —Described by many as seamless, long and abundant, the 2018 Napa Valley harvest is wrapping-up. The last mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is coming off hillsides, as weary but thrilled winemakers look ahead to working with near-perfect fruit in the cellar.

“The Napa Valley 2018 growing has been a Goldilocks vintage,” noted Dawnine Dyer, co-winemaker at Dyer Vineyard, as well as a consulting winemaker for wineries throughout Napa Valley. “Weather? Not too hot, not too cold. Sugars? Not too high, not too low. Colors and tannins and quality? Off the charts excellent!” Dyer continues. “We’re all sleeping very, very well now.”

The Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) trade organization has gathered perspectives on the 2018 growing season from several of its member winemakers around Napa Valley. Conversations also included harvest and what’s fermenting in the cellar as grapes become wine.

2018 Napa Valley Growing Season

February saw abundant rains, followed by lots of filtered light in spring and early summer. Both bud break and flowering occurred a bit late, but under ideal weather conditions, creating plentiful and even fruit set. Summer brought generous sun during the day and cooler marine influences and evenings—for which Napa Valley is known—virtually uninterrupted by any major heat spikes.

This created a uniformity across vineyards allowing vintners to mark a slow, steady course in canopy management and other viticulture practices leading up to harvest.

“With such a good set and larger berries per cluster, we had to drop more fruit than expected to be sure things would ripen. I believe the quick shot of rain we had in early October followed by a warm wind really helped things mature in a beautiful way. Slow ripening has meant elegant fruit, just what we always hope for. This is the kinda stuff people write books about!”

Jaime Dowell, winemaker, Round Pond Estate

2018 Napa Valley Harvest

The relatively mild summer followed by extended fall sunshine and moderate heat created near-ideal conditions for winemakers to let their fruit accumulate flavor complexity along with a gradual increase in sugar levels. This day-by day development of soft tannins and bright acids meant that winemakers have been able to slowly bring in their grapes at just the right moment, resulting in elegant, opulent and perfectly ripe fruit. 

Many winemakers are gauging a 20-30% increase in volume over average crop quantity.

“It’s been an awesome fall. The one magical rain followed by three weeks of mild sunshine softened grapes and freshened acids while sugars climbed slowly. It’s been almost five weeks of bluebird days: blue skies, wispy clouds, wines still rocking with photosynthesis: hangtime heaven.”

Peter Heitz, winemaker, Turnbull Wine Cellars

What’s Happening in the Cellar

Throughout Napa Valley, harvest duties are transitioning from 24-hour days and seven-day weeks in the vineyard to fermentation, pump-overs and barreling in the cellar.

It’s an intricate dance of decisions and timing from the moment the grapes hit the crush pad. Whole berry, whole cluster press? Destemmed?

Fermentation: What type of vessel? At what temperature? Open or closed top? Yeast or native fermentation? Extended or short maceration?

And as the weather cools and rains begin, barrel aging decisions: What type of barrel? What percentage of oak (or not)? Time developing flavors? 

The slow, steady rhythm of this fall’s harvest has meant that each step along this winemaking path has had the time and attention that result in true expressions of place and the winemaker’s craft.

“This is definitely a winemaker’s year in Napa Valley, when Mother Nature has given us spectacular fruit and the time to make decisions based on finding just the right moment to harvest, ferment, extract and then barrel. Making the best wine takes longer, it takes patience. This year we’ve been able to take all the time we need and I can’t wait to guide these wines to bottle.”

David Tate, winemaker at Barnett Vineyards and Tate Wines 

To check out the what’s happening as the Napa Valley 2018 harvest finds its way into the cellar, as well as harvest recipes, visit harvestnapa.com.

About the Napa Valley Vintners

The Napa Valley Vintners nonprofit trade association has been cultivating excellence since 1944 by inspiring its 550 winery members to consistently produce wines of the highest quality and to care for the extraordinary place they call home. Learn more at napavintners.com.

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