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Napa Grape Growers Predict "Exquisite" 2007 Harvest

by Mary-Colleen Tinney
August 07, 2007

The outlook for the 2007 harvest in the Napa Valley is excellent, according to a panel of growers gathered by the Napa Valley Grapegrowers for a harvest report. The event was held yesterday at the Vine Hill Ranch in Oakville, California.

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The season started out two to three weeks ahead of schedule, but the mild summer has slowed down the development of the vines. David Beckstoffer of Beckstoffer Vineyards estimates that production will be down 5 to 10 percent overall.

While some sparkling wine grapes are expected to be brought in as early as next week, the bulk of the picking will be done later in the summer. Specifically, it looks as though most whites will start to come in during the last week of August or first week of September. Most red varieties are expected to be picked in October or later, depending on the vineyard location.

"An early harvest is good insurance that we can get our fruit in without a significant rain event," said Lee Hudson of Hudson Vineyards in the Carneros district. "It's been a beautiful year, an exquisite season. It's the kind of year you wish for as a grower. We're set up for as good a harvest as we've ever had."

Growers were concerned at the beginning of the season because of the unusually dry winter and spring. However, because the summer growing season has been unusually cool with relatively few or long-lasting heat spikes, the vines have not needed to take in as much water as they might in a hotter, drier season.

"You'd have to go back at least 10 years to find a drier year," said David Beckstoffer of Beckstoffer Vineyards, speaking specifically of his Rutherford area vineyards. "If we have another dry year next year, though, then we might have a threat because people can't get their reservoirs and wells filled. But this year, water has not been a crisis by any means."

Patty Saldivar of HALL Wines discussed some of the usual challenges in growing grapes in the very warm Pope Valley. Normally, but this time, she has seen more than a dozen days above 100 degrees, usually spiking before noon and lasting throughout the day. This year, the vineyards have had half as many heat spikes, most of which were shorter than normal.

Mike Wolf of Michael Wolf Vineyard Services said that the weather "gave us a nice sense of control over the vines. We were able to hold off on irrigating virtually as long as we wanted to" at his Oakville vineyards. Though he said that at the beginning of the season the lack of rain "was a serious concern," he said the plants have responded very well to the dry year. "I don't know if I've ever seen vineyards look as good as this year."

A sometimes poor fruit set was an issue this season, though none of the panelists could identify a particular reason why shatter occurred. "Sometimes we just don't know why things happen," said Stan Zervas of Silverado Farming Company. "Bloom was okay, but we just got some weak or loose set."

Representing the Oak Knoll district, Jon Ruel of Trefethen Vineyards said that he had "high shatter" in Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, while Merlot was variable. Hall Huffsmith of Trinchero Family Estates indicated that in his Mt. Veeder and Atlas Peak vineyards, shatter depended largely on what clone was being grown. Additionally, he reported that he'd heard rumors of shatter issues in other vineyards as well.

However, the somewhat erratic fruit set, dry conditions and cool weather have created vines with smaller clusters of small berries and highly concentrated flavors. Beckstoffer said that winemakers should be "dancing in the streets" because of the fruit this year. "We always say that the harvest is good, but this is really something that we can point out is different from the last decade," he said. "The berry size isn't really even specific to certain clones or varieties or regions."

Ruel said that the "shoots stopped growing earlier than normal and often right where we wanted them to stop. We've had clusters in the dappled light all season long without having to do a lot of the work."

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