Napa Valley's Vintage and Harvest 2006 Report A Grower's Challenge but a Winemaker's Dream

 

10/19/2006 - San Francisco, CA: Members of the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) were in San Francisco today to revive a rich and long history between the City and Napa Valley of celebrating the annual winegrape harvest. The trade association hosted a press conference on the 2006 harvest, including a tasting of fresh-pressed/fermenting juice from this year's crop. In addition, the Honorable Mayor Gavin Newsom proclaimed the day "Napa Valley Day."

After a year that kept grapegrowers on their toes, vintners and winemakers are beginning to breathe a sigh of relief as the 2006 harvest nears completion in the next few weeks. "This was a grower's year," said NVV Hugh Davies, winemaker for Schramsberg Vineyards, "and thanks to excellent agricultural practices, the quality of varieties across the board appears spectacular."

Flooding kicked off the New Year in Napa Valley, which made for great TV footage, but did little damage to dormant vines, as cover crops stabilized soils in vineyards while rain continued into spring. Bud break was delayed by a few weeks, but by June, the weather had turned and vines began to bloom and set fruit.

In mid-July, a record-setting heat wave lasted about ten days, but with the crop a few weeks behind the historically normal cycle, damage was almost nil. In fact, most growers agree that the heat helped catch the vines up to a "normal" place in the typical growing season. Whatever clusters may have received sun burns were removed during the normal post-veraison cluster thinning.

Some growers feared that if the heat of July continued, all varieties would need to be harvested in a tight timeframe, but seasonal and somewhat cooler weather returned in August. According to Jon Priest, winemaker for Etude, whose Pinot Noir harvest began in early September, "The mild weather pattern continued throughout our three-week harvest, allowing for moderately paced and deliberate ripening. The resulting wines have wonderful perfume and very good density. We are encouraged by this year's harvest and are pleased with another successful vintage."

Cool weather dominated early October, with some rain coming in the first week, but most white varieties - those more likely to be affected by rain than red varieties - were already harvested. Sauvignon Blanc at Frog's Leap in Rutherford was all in by September 10, and owner John Williams said, "We had very nice ripening weather." According to Sauvignon Blanc grower Volker Eisele of Volker Eisele Family Vineyard, "In the Pope Valley District, the white wine harvest was excellent - good quality and quantity."

For Chardonnay, many growers were happy to have a bit of botrytis in the crop as an added flavor layer, thanks to the rains. Winemaker Pierre Birebent of Signorello Vineyards noted that brix for 2006 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the same as 2005, but the acidity levels are higher, resulting in well-balanced wines.

While the Pinot Noir harvest may be wrapped up, the harvest for the remaining red varieties is underway and still a few weeks away from completion. "Patience in 2006 is a virtue," stated Michael Weis, winemaker, Groth Vineyards & Winery. "Our classic 'Indian summer' is allowing patient winegrowers to maximize the maturity of their Cabernet without developing the monster sugars that can plague a warmer year. We will be harvesting two to three weeks later than 'average,' but will be able to selectively pick sub-blocks that are ripening at differing rates."

Michael Martini, master winemaker for Louis M. Martini Winery, added, "The 2006 Cabernet vintage in Napa Valley is turning out to be a very vibrant year. Tight tannins lend the notion that wines from 2006 should be long lived. The cool growing season has held high acids, which now are coming into balance. Green characters are gone from the fruit, and at this point that which we pick shows a combination of red and black cherry and is very vibrant."

Weather reports predict sunny, mild weather in the near future, which should provide vintners with the conditions needed to bring a successful close to a dramatic year. "We are in a wonderful, long growing season - magnificent hang time for the development of very complex, concentrated flavors," said Bo Barrett, winemaker for Chateau Montelena Winery. "It should be a bitchin' vintage!"


Additional 2006 harvest quotes & notes
Araujo Estate Wines
Francoise Peschon, Winemaker
Our Sauvignon Blanc came in a few days later than last year (last year was itself a bit later than is typical). We harvested a good-sized crop of 23 tons between September 12 and 23, which started off with the Sauvignon Musquet. The flavors of the Musquet were huge and fleshy -very exciting. The harvesting was done in slightly fewer distinct picks than usual, due to particularly even ripening.

Chateau Montelena Winery
Bo Barrett, Winemaker
We are in a wonderful, long growing season - magnificent hang time for the development of very complex, concentrated flavors. It should be a bitchin' vintage!

Domaine Chandon
Tom Tiburzi, Sparkling Winemaker
The duration of the 2006 Sparkling harvest was very compressed, which we anticipated, following temperate spring conditions and a shortened bloom period. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the traditional Champagne varietals we use for sparkling wine, matured very evenly and concurrently due to temperate spring conditions. An unusual extended hot spell in July, which brought numerous consecutive 100 plus degree days, was the only significant event during maturity. The extreme heat occurred while the berries were green and hard, resulting in a slower maturity rate but no ill effects on grape quality. In fact, the long hang time led to complex flavor development. The resulting base wines from this vintage have vibrant acidity and fruit flavors, making it an ideal vintage for sparkling wine.

Etude
Jon Priest, Winemaker
Our Pinot Noir harvest began on September 5 in the midst of mild, late summer weather. The mild weather pattern continued throughout the three week harvest, allowing for moderately paced and deliberate ripening. The resulting wines have wonderful perfume and very good density. There is nothing more enchanting than the scent created by a winery full of fermenting Pinot Noir. We are encouraged by this year's harvest and are pleased with another successful vintage.

Far Niente and Nickel & Nickel
Dirk Hampson, Director of Winemaking
Nickel & Nickel has brought in Cabernet from several different vineyards. The resulting wines are showing a brightness of fruit and more texture than what I was expecting based on tasting the fruit in the vineyard. The nature of the vintage can really affect ripening in various areas of the valley. Nickel & Nickel is on track to finish harvest in about 14 days.

Far Niente, on the other hand, will just begin bringing in Cabernet this Friday, October 20. I think the lateness of the season is allowing the vineyards to give us more uniformity in ripe fruit flavors, and I'm seeing almost no dimpling or raisining that we might see in a late harvest in a warmer year. The cool nights in the valley are making the vineyards look much more fall-like than typically happens by this time in October. I think we'll see the lion's share of harvest completed in the next two weeks in the Napa Valley.

Groth Vineyards & Winery
Michael Weis, Winemaker
Patience in 2006 is a virtue. Our classic 'Indian summer' is allowing patient winegrowers to maximize the maturity of their Cabernet without developing the monster sugars that plague a warmer year. We will be harvesting two to three weeks later than "average" but will be able to selectively pick sub-blocks that are ripening at differing rates.

Ladera Vineyards
Pat Stotesbery, Proprietor
Juxtaposition of ripening for our two mountain vineyards: typically our Lone Canyon Vineyard, on the flanks of Mount Veeder, begins before Howell Mountain due mostly

View harvest recaps and vintage charts

Contact: Kristina Streeter, Napa Valley Vintners 707.968.4218 kstreeter@napavintners.com