Industry leaders discuss 2019 growing season during Napa Valley Grapegrowers annual harvest press conference
Napa, CA (October 15, 2019) – With approximately 75% of total winegrapes harvested throughout Napa Valley, consensus among growers who spoke at the Napa Valley Grapegrowers (NVG) annual press conference today is that 2019 has been a smooth, balanced growing season and that the fruit shows superb flavors. The 15th annual press conference, held at Cliff Lede Vineyards, was moderated by NVG CEO Jennifer Putnam and featured three dynamic industry leaders.
Jon Ruel, CEO of Trefethen Family Vineyards, said that he tasted the active red fermentations with Trefethen’s winemaker yesterday and the “concentrated flavors” of the 2019 vintage are emerging.
“The growing season was quite nice, with a lot of warmth, and that helped us catch up from what was a little bit of a cold, wet start,” said Ruel. “That nice, beautiful sunshine got us back on schedule with some pretty tasty grapes. The pace of harvest has been calm.”
Ruel also added that August was the warmest August since 2003, due to warmer evenings overall. This led to lower acidity in the grapes. “We pay attention to the chemistry of the grapes,” added Ruel. “We want to make sure we capture the natural acidity and get it into the bottle.”
Photo Credit: Sarah Anne Risk
Allison Wilson, the Director of Vineyard Operations for Cliff Lede Vineyards, agreed about the quality of the fruit.
“Having this really mild time during harvest allowed us to leave the fruit out a little bit longer than we normally would to develop those flavors more,” said Wilson. “We’re excited to see it through the fermentation process and get that wine in the bottle.”
Having a bountiful vintage was advantageous, too.
“What was nice about having a larger crop this year was that we got to go in and farm with precision throughout the year,” added Wilson. “We got to thin the clusters in the field rather than sorting them in the winery and we could be selective about the fruit we wanted to bring in.”
Ruel agrees: “It was another vintage where the grower was in the driver’s seat.”
For all the growers on the panel, having a consistent, dedicated workforce is essential. Erin Bright Russell, a partner at Rancho Chimiles, commented that her family farm is a “hybrid,” retaining a small crew on staff throughout the year and bringing in a larger crew for targeted work at critical points in the season.
“We have people who understand our property and our crops,” said Bright Russell.
Photo Credit: Sarah Anne Risk
2019 Napa Valley Harvest Highlights:
- The 2019 growing season began with heavy rains in March and April, which cultivated robust cover crops that organically enriched the soil with an abundance of nutrients
- The rain in April created a bit of shatter in Chardonnay clusters during bloom, but didn’t significantly reduce crop size, and most growers referred to it as “nature’s way of thinning”
- Fruit set was on course during the spring for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec
- With the exception of a brief heat spike in June, summer weather was moderate and veraison (when winegrapes turn color) was even
- Harvest began in mid-August with a brief heat spike that growers, vineyard managers and their crews handled expertly
- Brief, sporadic light rain on two days in mid-September prompted some growers to trim their canopies to increase air flow around ripening fruit
- While some growers are still picking Cabernet Sauvignon, harvest continues under mild autumn conditions
- Yield is not as high as last year, but more than prior years. In anticipation of a robust crop, growers took the opportunity to thin their fruit, precisely trimming down clusters so that only the finest fruit is being harvested
- With highly competitive wages and benefits, most Napa growers retain in-house crews
- Retaining employees allows growers to raise the bar on quality
Public Safety Power Shutoff
- A Public Safety Power Shutoff began on October 9 and lasted several days, but growers were resilient and adaptable, relying on generators and hand work to power harvest operations
Jon Ruel, CEO, Trefethen Family Vineyards
Allison Wilson, Director of Vineyard Operations, Cliff Lede Vineyards
Erin Bright Russell, Partner at Rancho Chimiles
About Napa Valley Grapegrowers (NVG)
Napa Valley Grapegrowers (NVG) is a non-profit trade organization that has played a vital role in strengthening Napa Valley’s reputation as a world-class viticultural region for more than 43 years. Its mission is to preserve and promote Napa Valley’s world-class vineyards. NVG represents 725 Napa County grapegrowers and associated businesses. For more information, visit www.napagrowers.org.