Napa’s Wild Weather Summer: Dispatches from the Vineyard

Vinted on September 29, 2010 binned in California wine, wine news

“Strange year!”

That’s the (apt) summary that winemaker and grower Steve Matthiasson gave me when I asked him how things were looking in Napa as they approached harvest of what has been one of the craziest growing seasons in recent memory.

There’s been much speculation in the wine press as to the impact that the bizarre Summer weather patterns would have on the quality of the fruit that will shortly be going into Napa’s wines, so I reached out to Steve for an update, because he’s probably the most passionate person I know when it comes to making great wine and growing great fruit in the Valley (since he does both, and does them both very well).  A somewhat narrow view, arguably, but I’ll take a dispatch from the field over speculation, any day.

The short version of the Napa 2010 story is that it’s not all gloom-and-doom, but it does seem to be a case of feast-or-famine and a potential study in extremes.

While some varieties in particular, and some pockets of the Valley in general, are taking a nasty hit, others have fared pretty well – and some growers may actually be onto fruit that could result in extremely high-quality wines, despite the atypical weather…

According to Steve:

It has the potential to make some awesome wine, as long as one made the right decisions along the way and had a whole lot of luck. Our Red Hen Merlot is in tank, and might be the best ever. Our white blend is all blended and almost dry, and is just awesome. The mild summer allowed more aromas to develop than normal.”

On the other hand, growing wine grapes is not a job for those disinclined to decision-making and/or looking for low-stress work, even in (relatively) consistent climatic environments as Napa Valley. The big losers (generally speaking) appear to be Zinfandel, along with the Bordeaux blending varieties like Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Russian River Valley Pinot seems to have seen better days as well.  For Merlot, it depends on location with some areas faring better than others.  “Merlot damage is spotty, with some wipeouts and some vineyards unscathed, “ Steve noted; “Cabernet is for the most part fine–the thick skins saved it.”

The heat wave this week is figuring to test the mettle of some growers, though the more moderate heat forecasted on the tail end of that may help more than hurt:

“The heat we had in late August is still continuing to show its true effects. Fruit that looked okay is still shriveling up. Its currently a mystery as to why. The good news is that the undamaged fruit appears fine, so it’s not a wine quality issue so much as it’s a wine quantity issue. The Indian Summer we’ve been hoping for is arriving this weekend, so as long as we survive the first blast of heat the sustained warm weather should save the vintage for the winemakers looking for high levels of ripeness. Thank god the rain didn’t show up last week, so with this heat and no rain the quality of the vintage may be spectacular for those whose fruit survived the heat.”

The moral of the story? Some great wine is still likely to be made in Napa from the 2010 harvest – we’re just going to need to be careful about where in the valley that fruit was born…






  • @norcalwingman

    It's been a scorcher of a week we've had. I was out in Dry Creek this last weekend and chatted with a couple wineries about the fruit they've been brining in. There is a lot of damaged fruit so the sorting tables are super busy. One winery had to build a sorting table because they had never had the problem before. With harvest in full swing we'll see how this thing turns out but it should make for some good stories, and potentially good wines (since most everyone is sorting).


    • 1WineDude

      Keep us posted, Brian!

  • 1WineDude

    Thanks, Albert. Alas, I've not checked in with any contacts in SB yet, but if I can I will update back here in the comments.

    Now that I think about it, you're reminding me that I need to seriously increase my circle of winemaking contacts in CA beyond Napa and Sonoma…!

    • El Jefe

      Yes. Yes you do. The whole state is dealing with weird weather this year! (Notice how I resisted saying "Napa Schmapa". Oh, wait…)

      • 1WineDude

        El Jefe – I have heard of Napa, don't they make auto parts or something?

        • El Jefe

          Yes they do. It's been an interesting year in the auto parts industry, I must say.

  • vinogirl

    Napa has it's micro-climates just like the rest of the Bay Area. At home here in Coombsville, my Pinot gris and Syrah are looking good…but my Cabernet looks fab…not all parts of the valley are created equally!

  • Trackbacks

  • Trackback from STEVE HEIMOFF| WINE BLOG » Blog Archive » The heat is on
    Wednesday, 29 September, 2010

    […] colleague, Joe Roberts, at 1WineDude, reported today on the heat. I had the same instinct yesterday, when I asked my winemaker friends on Facebook to report in from […]

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