Friends and clients called with worried anticipation at the brief, but notable, rain storm that we experienced in the Napa Valley a couple of weeks ago. We received almost and inch of rain, much of it coming in a sudden downpour, and then the clouds cleared and the sun came out with temperatures in the 70’s and 80’s for the rest of the week. If anything, it slowed the pace of harvest, first by slowing the maturation on the vine and foremost by dampening the ground to the point that tractors couldn’t get in to harvest for a day or two. Again, a week later, the tail end of a little storm clouded the skies and lightly misted the vines for 2 days, with clearing and a return to warm weather forecast for the next several weeks. It was not hurricane or blizzard worthy, but enough to scare wine lovers who know how precious wine grapes can be.
The 2013 vintage has been one of the best we’ve seen in years, producing perfectly mature grapes with wonderfully balanced flavors. All of the thin-skinned, tightly bunched varieties throughout the valley have already been picked. Our Sauvignon Blanc came in almost a month ago, (picked early in the morning under bright light bars) and the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are by now all picked and fermenting in the tanks and barrels. Cabernet Sauvignon have lose bunches and thicker skins that can withstand some moisture and ward off any rot, and ripen much later in the season.
We have been keeping a close watch on the ripeness of our Cabernet, as the evenly warm and outstanding growing season of 2013 has brought sugar levels to near-perfect conditions several weeks earlier than average. Talking amongst our peers and driving up and down the valley, there is either the “Yeah, get it off. It’s ready!” theory (as seen in ½ of the Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards already picked), or the “They taste good and sugars are high, but they just don’t feel totally balanced – tannins still too high and still tasting a little immature.”
Our north-facing Herb Lamb Vineyards’ grapes are in the latter camp, and we started picking just the ripest rows last week, waiting a week or (weather permitting) more for much of the rest of the fruit to fully ripen. As soon as we get all our fruit picked and into the winery next week, only then will we do a little rain dance to celebrate – it’s OK, Mother Nature, soon you can let er’ rip!