Napa wine harvest season begins

August 11, 2008 7:00:08 PM PDT
In Napa County, it is time to collect the fruits of a season's labor. The harvest has begun and it follows a difficult growing season that might, or might not, be a sign of more to come.

It is not the end of summer but in Napa Wine Country, it is that time again. The slash and dash to the crush has begun. John Williams at Frog's Leap is one of four vineyards to start harvesting Sauvignon Blanc grapes.

"It's a couple of days early one year. A couple late the next. This is a little early," says Williams.

To a practiced eye, the grapes look like any others they are smaller, but also tastier. But they didn't come easy. Last spring was the coldest in more than three decades.

Last spring, we saw freezing temperatures for more than a month. Some vineyards lost 75 percent of their grapes. In fact, the entire growing season had more plot twists than a page-turning novel.

"The trend is the variability," says grape farmer Cameron Baker,

At Larkmead Vineyards, Cameron Baker spent dollars, just on diesel fuel, to keep his grapes from freezing.

"Farming is different every year. But this is the most problematic that I can remember for quite some time," says Baker.

After that spring frost, the region suffered heavy rains right in the middle of flowering season. Then, there were three unusual heat waves before mid July, followed by cooler temperatures until now. No one has enough long-term data to blame a changing climate, but the thought is out there.

"The highs and lows are different. The peaks and valleys are more different. It's weather we haven't seen before," says Baker.

So as the 2008 harvest comes in, another crop arrives to reflect another growing season. If the vintage has a certain memorable intensity, the people who grew it, earned it.


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