Winemaking. Life. The Dirt. Alison Crowe is a Winemaker Based in Napa.

Under the Gun: Wineries Scramble to Prep for Earlier, Faster 2013


Garnet 2012 Pinot Noir, safely in the bottle

Garnet 2012 Pinot Noir, safely in the bottle

At Garnet Vineyards I have the luxury of knowing my 2012 vintage will be safely in the bottle by the end of this week, before the first grape even thinks about hitting the crush pad.   However, many of my wine-making buddies across the state aren’t looking forward to such a relaxing prospect over their Labor Day weekend.  Some are frantically getting wines out of barrel, making last-minute blends and getting wines into the bottle in a final attempt to clear the decks before the 2013 tons start flying.  And, it appears, some are still lingering in a “normal year” mindset even though it’s starting to look like 2013 might be earlier, faster and more condensed than usual.

In Napa, Sonoma and the Central Coast, grape trucks for still wine are already on the road as early-ripening varietals like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio follow hard on the heels of an action-packed early sparkling harvest about a week ahead of schedule.  Rumors of Napa Cabs at higher-than-normal brixes for this date are already making winery managers nervous about crush-pad traffic jams as multiple varietals try to get in the door at once.


Jillian Johnson of Laffort USA wine supply company

“ It’s definitely caught us a little by surprise,” says Laffort’s Jillian Johnson, who provides both bottling and finished wine supplies to wineries statewide and so is in a good position to observe what winemakers are working on as the weeks (days?) to harvest tick down.

“People are still bottling and I’m still getting orders for fining wines,”  Johnson reports (fining is an optional pre-bottling step, like bentonite fining of excess protein in white wines).    She says, “It seems like the mind-set hasn’t even shifted yet to harvest.  It’s because people are still dealing with so much wine from 2012.  They really do have to bottle to make room for the incoming wine.”

Stanly Ranch Pinot Noir is tracking 7days earlier than average

Stanly Ranch Pinot Noir is tracking 7days earlier than average

At Garnet Vineyards, we are definitely seeing our first Carneros Pinot, Stanly Ranch, tracking 7 days earlier than average. It’s still nowhere near the “4 weeks early!!” level that some winemakers were talking about after a few warm weeks this spring, but without a doubt 2013 will be remembered as an earlier year.  Even the recent monsoonal pattern hasn’t really dampened ripening, as temperatures have achieved low to mid-80’s (F) consistently, which is perfect sugar-accumulating weather.  The gentle, mild growing season in 2013 has meant that the vine’s vascular structures are in tip-top shape, basically paving a sugar superhighway to ripeness.  Flavors are also developing earlier than I would expect as well, which is great news and means that the critical sensory elements will be there to match the incoming sugar and the gently falling acid.  So far (knock on lots of wood!) it looks like the stars are getting in alignment for another delicious year.

However….we have a long way to go before we can all heave a sigh of relief and put a cork in 2013.  Chardonnay and Cabernet might be right on top of each other, and not many people I’ve talked to are thinking they’ll be crushing much into November.

Prepping hoses in the cellar at Garnet Vineyards

Prepping hoses in the cellar at Garnet Vineyards

This all points to a fast and condensed harvest, one that stresses out both people and equipment as we work longer hours to pick, crush and barrel down all the incoming fruit in a shorter time period.  And there’s no denying a generous (but super-high quality) 2012 has left many of us pushing the envelope on getting that vintages’ blends into the bottle and out of the winery.

There’s no doubt about it, it’s high time to muster the crews, roll out the barrels and get our collective harvest hats on.  Like Jillian says,  “Look around on the roads, there are harvest trucks out there, it’s time to figure out your orders!”  It’s time to batten down the hatches and get ready for another roller coaster ride, one that looks to be particularly tasty, fast and exciting! is the blog of Alison Crowe


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