10/17/2014 - St. Helena, CA – The 2014 wine grape harvest is finishing up in the Napa Valley and vintners are celebrating another early and excellent quality year. As winemaking activity transitions from the vineyard to the cellar, the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) nonprofit trade association invited some of its 500 winery members to share their impressions of the vintage and to respond to the most frequently asked questions about this year’s harvest. In spite of the drought and the South Napa earthquake, vintners are using words like “quality,” “depth of flavor” and “excellent” to describe their expectations for the vintage. Many are also noting “perfect weather,” “abundant crop” and “good fortune” among the blessings they are counting in a season where Mother Nature threw a rockin’ curveball. To wrap up this year’s harvest, here are answers to some of the most frequent questions the NVV has heard this year from wine lovers, wine buyers and the press: When did the 2014 harvest begin in Napa Valley? The first grapes for sparkling wine were picked on July 30 and some wineries reported harvesting aromatic whites, like Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, in early August. However, for most vintners and growers harvest didn’t really kick into high gear for other grape varieties until the third week in August. Isn’t that really early? A late July/early August start is a bit earlier than average, but not the earliest reported in recent years – the first sparkling wine grapes were harvested on July 23 in 1997 and July 26 in 2004. How many grapes were picked? While the crop report from the Napa County Agricultural Commissioner won’t be out until early next year, most vintners and growers are commenting about greater than average quantities in general. However, the yields seem to vary, depending on where in the Napa Valley the grapes were grown and also the specific variety. Yields from the 2012 wine grape harvest broke records in Napa Valley and 2013 was not far behind. It looks like 2014 will be the third abundant harvest in a row for the region, but no one is expecting any records to fall. How has the drought impacted this year’s harvest? The 2013/2014 winter was one of the driest on record in California and rainfall totals in the Napa Valley were approximately half of normal. However, the timing could not have been better: heavy rains in late February and early March gave a much-needed drink of water to the vines as they were emerging from dormancy and about to begin bud break. Furthermore, the spring was warm allowing vintners and growers to save water if needed for irrigation rather than using it for frost protection. And finally, while the vines used for high-quality wine production generally don’t need much water, a benefit of the drought is that berry sizes are typically smaller and have more concentrated flavors, which many winemakers believe contributed to the overall quality of this year’s harvest. What about the August 24 earthquake? The earthquake did not do any damage to the grapevines themselves or the fruit on the vine. For some wineries, it did interrupt harvest for a day or two and created the need for others to repair or replace broken equipment, or to get help from their neighbors to get back on their feet quickly as harvest was ramping up for many during this time. Winemakers reporting from even the most significantly damaged wineries told NVV they were still able to proceed with “harvest as usual” in spite of quake damage. In a few words, how are vintners and growers summarizing their 2014 Napa Valley harvest? Early, excellent, quality, exciting, fantastic, beautiful, demanding but fruitful, and another great year are just some of the words and phrases NVV is hearing from its vintner members. Some are even saying they’ll be trick-or-treating with their kids on Halloween and dining with their families at the Thanksgiving table – luxuries not always afforded to a winemaker during harvest season. Thank you to the following NVV members for their contributions to our FAQs: Kathy Simpson, Barbour Vineyards; Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock Winery; Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyard & Winery; Don Baker, Sciandri Family Vineyards; Jon Ruel, Trefethen Family Vineyards; Anthony Truchard II, Truchard Vineyards; and Alexander Eisele, Volker Eisele Family Estate.
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