Each year Mother Nature plays an enormous role on the outcome of Spring Mountain District (SMD) wines. In the following segments, SMD winemakers discuss the weather conditions for a specific year and the impact on the year’s wine.
Just like late seasons, early growing seasons like 2013 can have their own weather hazards from bud break through ripening. The weather can be wrong for the best interests of the vine at a particular stage of its development. Hot weather during bloom or ripening can be as destructive to wine quality as cold weather and rain. As each critical development phase in the vineyard occurred, the 2013 weather on Spring Mountain broke in favor of the winemaker, presenting moderate, often ideal conditions for quality. It was a season that gratified even the most persnickety winemaker.
The growing season began warm and dry bringing an early Spring bud break. Moderate and warm conditions continued over the next few months with flowering and fruit set under sunny skies. Except for one heat spike in early July, temperatures were moderate and optimal for fruit development.
Veraison and ripening began early, but two brief rains in mid-September followed by sunny breezy weather slowed things down. October was cooler and sunny allowing the reds on Spring Mountain to linger on the vine and develop mature flavors at moderate sugar levels. Yields varied widely among the diverse soils and steep slopes, while tiny compared to vineyards elsewhere, on Spring Mountain the small yields were still above average.
Spring Mountain winemakers concur that the resulting wines show considerable depth, concentration, superb color extraction and smooth, supple tannins.
Tom Ferrell, SMDA
Beautiful and abundant is how many will remember 2012. It was a year when the harvest was ample and the weather favorable for maturing the larger crop. It began with a wet January and March then tapered to a moderate and dry Spring. Problems were few and far in between during the growing season with healthy vines flourishing through flowering with adequate soil moisture. Some varieties, particularly Merlot, set a bumper crop. Summer was moderate and slightly cooler than the average of the last dozen vintages, though warmer than the last two. With a two day heat spike at the beginning of harvest many winemakers on Spring Mountain anticipated a relatively quick and compact harvest, but the mild weather throughout September slowed things down considerably. Here the heat inversion growers experience above the valley on the hillside, with its warmer nights and mornings above the fog combined with cool afternoons slowed the accumulation of sugar and allowed for extended flavor development. Winemakers did not have to chose between flavor development and avoiding excessive alcohol. Harvest weather held good with showers only coming towards the end of October. This settled the dust in the vineyard and washed the dust off the fruit: and following them temperatures in the low 80’s did a nice job of ripening the remaining fruit still hanging on the vines. The last grapes to be picked were Cabernet Sauvignon in the lower elevations.
The 2012 vintage ended with a year that was consistently throughout the year warmer than the previous two. Merlot seems particular fruitful in 2013. Cabernet Sauvignon was mixed with some vintners at the top of the hill reporting a smaller than normal crop, while wineries in the lower elevations experiencing a larger. Though mostly trouble free, the one problem that several Spring Mountain wineries experienced in 2012 was finding space to contain the bountiful harvest. This was happily offset, by the deeply colored, balanced, and intensely flavorful wines that emerged from the fermenter.
Tom Ferrell, SMDA
The vintage year of 2011 began with a wet winter and spring continued with rainfall into mid-June. The rainfall season ended with June and growers reported a third more rainfall than average which was good news for ground water reservoirs. This weather delayed bloom and disrupted the fruit set on vineyard blocks that were in bloom. This resulting in shatter and smaller crop size and set the stage for a long, cooler-than-average growing season.
There were few high heat events during the summer and veraison and ripening was later-than-average. Spring mountain growers managed their vine canopies and open them to take advantage of sunlight, warmer nights and mornings on the hillsides, and good air circulation around the grape clusters. Though there were some Autumn rains before harvest was complete, the light, well drained hillside soils and durable red grape varieties, came through it all exceeding expectations. Though a small harvest, Spring Mountain winegrower saw bright, beautiful and balanced wines in the barrel which hold great promise.
Tom Ferrell, SMDA
The surprise of 2010 was that after one of the most difficult and challenging growing seasons in memory, the vintage yielded wonderful fruit and beautiful wines.
Vintage 2010 started off wet, but Spring Mountain growers welcomed the return of rainfall to the region after three dry seasons. The annual precipitation was about twenty percent above average. With this the first challenge appeared, as cool weather pushed back bud-break, bloom, and fruit-set at least two weeks at the front of the growing season. This set the stage up-front for a small and late harvest.
Summer brought cooler than normal temperatures which further set things back and required constant vigilance and rigorous canopy management to avert mildew and encourage fruit development. With the vines opened, a two day heat spike in late August caused a further loss of crop in some vineyard blocks. Cooler than average temperatures returned again in early September, but fortunately gave way.
Hot weather at the beginning of October moved sugars up quickly, seeing whites and Merlot being picked. Then came another cool down and growers were back in the waiting game. Harvest was slow and intermittent during middle October with consistent, beautiful warm weather finally arriving at the end of October and early November. With the vines still healthy and looking at a warm weather forecast,Spring Mountain Vintners were able to pick only when they felt the grapes were ready; it let everyone finish harvest and finally breathe a sigh of relief.
Tom Ferrell, SMDA
The 2009 growing season was anything but normal. Mother Nature had a lot of surprises in store for us this year. It was the start of the third year of drought for our area. There was tremendous concern among hillside farmers regarding the very limited water reserves for irrigating our vineyards through the long growing season. To compound our worries, March and April were very dry and it looked as if our rainy season was over. By the end of April growers were looking at beginning their irrigation regime but our first surprise of the year was a significant and very unusual winter-like Pacific storm that dropped over 4 inches of rain on Spring Mountain in early May. This was huge in that we could delay the start of irrigation and save what little water we had for later.
May and June were unusually cool and bloom was very slow to complete. Vine growth was very slow as well. With the cool weather, the vines conserved water and this was fortunate because what lied ahead was going to use our stored water rapidly. Our normal summertime heat started in late July and on through August. This was normal and our irrigation program was in full swing. In September, we expect to see temperatures moderate and cool some for a nice gradual ripening period for our grapes. That didn’t happen, as a matter of fact, it got hotter and for the last 15 days of September we saw 6 days that were above 100 degrees. The late season intense heat caused rapid dehydration to our already drought stricken vines. Growers struggled to prevent raisining of the clusters. Grape sugars escalated rapidly. Because of the heat many growers harvested some of their red varieties earlier in October than you might have expected given the cool spring and early summer.
In a year where water shortages were abundant, you would think we would be happy for rain, but never during harvest. Mother Nature’s third surprise was intense. Remnants of a typhoon which hit Japan were coming our way. On October 13th Spring Mountain received over 5 inches of rain which pounded the mountain! What we needed so desperately was very untimely. For those of us that still had grapes hanging, we instantly feared mold. Grapes that were damaged by late summer sun burn had a green/black mold develop within 2 days after that rainfall. Grapes that were not damaged by sunburn actually did very well through the rain. Bordeaux red varieties tend to be fairly tough skinned and resistant to mold problems anyway. It was a tough time though because a lot more sorting was necessary to discard any damaged fruit, because after all, Spring Mountain appellation is all about quality. Harvest completed pretty much by the end of October and thankfully so.
For a year that was filled with so many challenges, grape growers and wineries did a tremendous job making so many beautiful wines out of a harvest that was riddled with difficulties. Hats off to all who rose to the occasion and fought through the battle. Not an easy year by anyone’s account.
Spring Mountain Vineyard
Every harvest presents a unique set of challenges and 2009 was no exception. Ron’s description of the 2009 growing season resembles a growers obstacle course from a cool spring, to unexpected heat, to torrential rains and mold, we kind of ran into struggles of Biblical proportions. But the job of a winemaker is to always find the best the harvest has to offer and 2009 did have plenty of positives. We are blessed on Spring Mountain to have one of the most exceptional terroirs in Napa Valley, or in the world for that matter, and its character persists through the variables of any vintage. The heat in the middle of the 2009 growing season pushed the grapes to early ripening, but it also pushed concentration of flavors and aromas, and we were blessed with several lots of extraordinary wines.
The greatest challenge for winemakers was to extract all this concentration from grapes that were small, tight and very unyielding, so cap management became the critical arena for success in 2009. Slightly warmer fermentation temperatures coupled with longer pumpovers and more frequent delestages allowed us to coax the beauty from the grapes. Because the wines were also very extracted, we could me more aggressive with our oak program using 100% new French oak to combined serious oak tannins with equally aggressive grape tannins and in the combination soften and tame these big wines. We’re just a year into the aging program, but we can see already the positive results as the wines are becoming more polished and rounded, while maintaining their inherent intensity,
SPRING MOUNTAIN VINEYARD
Growing Season and Harvest
The 2008 harvest season started with some challenges and ended smoothly, although in short supply. Spring started on time with some nice warm weather slowly coaxing the buds to break and all looked well. Suddenly, we had a cool spell and fear of frost arose twice in two weeks. Fortunately a majority of Spring Mountain was spared since the natural movement of air on our slopes limited frost formation on the vines, but some neighbors with small frost pockets did get affected. Things began to warm up and we had our traditional summer heat spikes, although fewer than previous years.
A strange thing began to emerge in front of us as the year developed. There was a lot more green (leaves) then red or white (grapes). Although yields are typically low on Spring Mountain due to low fertility and cooler weather, the 2008 harvest was a major exaggeration. Here at Barnett Vineyards we harvested exactly half of what we had in 2007. Talking amongst our fellow Spring Mountain-ites it was an unfortunate common occurrence.
The fall did cooperate with us though, nice warm sunny days, not to hot and only a few sprinkles allowed full flavor development in the grapes before too much sugar accumulation. Our first picking was our Merlot on September 19th, and it proved immediately that these small yields needed tannin management (holding off a bit on maceration to keep the tannins in balance). The flavors are full with great depth and both the acid and tannins definitely firm. The 2008 vintage will most likely be of exceptional quality.
Growing Season and Harvest
The growing season and harvest of 2007 definitely kept us on our toes! Spring of 2007 was relatively warm and vines budded out a little earlier than usual. Mid-summer temperatures during 2007 were mild, but the last week of August warmed up, and by September 1st, harvest had begun for Keenan.
Harvest continued, but only at a slow pace. Blocks with good exposure and in warm areas were picked, but most vineyards within Spring Mountain District seemed to slow down and take their time ripening. The third week of September became unseasonably cool (cold!) and we even had some rain on September 22. Portions of Spring Mountain District hadn’t even started harvest, while those that had came to a grinding halt.
It warmed up slightly during the end of September and early October, pushing certain vineyards towards ripeness. By October 14th some wineries and vineyards were all but finished with harvest, while others had a large majority of fruit still hanging on the vine. Then, in mid-October, a rain storm blew through the Napa Valley dropping over two inches of rain. It appeared that winter had come early, and many winery and vineyard folk were not sleeping well because of it. Luckily the rain ended and clusters dried quickly, allowing later ripening vineyards to pull in the last of their fruit and finish off the harvest.
Overall we were extremely pleased with the quality of the 2007 harvest. The ’07 Chardonnay is showing bright acidity while the reds show amazing depth and richness, yet soft, well integrated tannins. Keenan’s 2007 total tonnage was about average for Chardonnay and Merlot, while Cabernet Sauvignon delivered its highest yield to date.
2006 was one of the wettest in recorded history on Spring Mountain reaching 110 inches in some areas. The cold wet winter delayed bud break to mid – late April and though the fairly warm spring conditions provided some catch up, bloom and veraison were also delayed resulting in a later than normal harvest. The summer conditions were similar to 2005 with average temperatures in June and warmer than normal conditions in July, but July was even more severe than the previous year with 13 days approaching or broaching the century mark, and one weekend that recorded temperatures of 113 and 110. Some sunburn resulted from these very hot days, but it was early in the growing season and the vines responded with little or no damage. August and September were idyllic and maturation proceeded smoothly through those months setting up perfect harvest conditions in October and a bit into November. The only blip on the radar during the harvest period were minor rain events in early October and early November, but the rains caused more inconvenience than real problems. Most wineries were finished by the second week of November with tonnage a bit on the shy side of normal and with fruit quality in the same range as 2004 and 2005.
Spring temperatures in 2005 were unseasonably cool on Spring Mountain. Rainfall during March, April and May was about 18 inches compared to less than 3 inches during the same months in 2004. Though the timing of bud break was close to that of 2004, the plentiful springtime rain and cool temperatures slowed vine growth and development, and bloom occurred nearly a month later the previous year.
Summer temperatures were very warm in July, with several days exceeding 100 degrees. But despite the warmth, the late trend that began in the Spring carried through to verasion – the point at which the red grape varieties begin to turn from green to purple. The period between August through the beginning of November was cool and moderate with no heat spikes. This allowed for the grapes to ripen slowly and evenly without dehydration.
The 2005 harvest began on Spring Mountain in mid-September, more than a month later than the previous year. Picking continued through the first week of November making 2005 an unusually long growing season, and a slow paced harvest. Crop size was normal in most vineyards.
Most wineries consider their 2005’s to be outstanding attributing the intensity and balance to the long growing season and the excellent ripening weather during the harvest season.
In a nutshell the vintage 2004 was early and light. At Chandon, they say that 2004 is the second earliest harvest since they began making sparkling wine in the Napa Valley in 1973. My own memory of vintages goes back to 1968 and 2004 the one of the earliest I have seen as well.
We can never say exactly why a vintage is early or late, but we usually have clues. After heavy rains two months earlier than usual in December 2003, January, February and March of 2004 were unusually warm and dry. We think this weather pattern helped set the vineâ€™s clock a month earlier than the year before.For most varieties bloom began about a month earlier than 2003.
The crop was light, it was common to find blocks or Cabernet vines with only one cluster per shoot. Harvest tonnage was 15% to 30% below average depending on vineyard and block.
May, June, and July were unusually cool, but clear and dry. Not once did the temperatures rise over 100 degrees. Verasion came predictably early and August opened cool and clear. Harvest on the earliest varieties began in mid-August.
About that time the weather turned warm and continued warm through mid September. Sunny days spurred ripeness, bringing most vineyard blocks to the brink of harvest. Almost on cue, the weather turned cool and crisp. This slowed development and enabled Spring Mountain wineries to take their time and pick the vineyard a block at a time at a leisurely pace.
On Spring Mountain where it is cooler and wetter than the valley floor, an early harvest is even more welcome. This was fortunate in 2004 because just as most wineries finished harvest in mid-October the first storm of the season moved in and dropped 3 inches of rainfall in the district. The rains quenched the thirst of some very tired and stressed grape vines and punctuated the end of the crush. They say timing is everything, and in 2004 the timing couldnâ€™t have been more perfect.
Given the early start, the cool growing season, and the cool, clear weather in late September and early October, the crop actually spent a couple weeks longer on the vine than usual. We see the effects of the long cool season in the bright fruit aromas and the soft flavor of the wines.
This year was another interesting year on the mountain as Nature again tested our trust and patience while we coaxed our vines through the season.
Bud break was on schedule as warm weather in April welcomed the vines into the new growing season. High temperatures climbed in May and then fell abruptly in the middle of June. The wild Mariposa Lilies that grow in the meadow next to our vineyard bloomed in the first week of June, indicating that the season was on schedule.
High temperatures stayed mostly between the high 70s and high 90s from late June through September. There were three distinct temperature spikes into the high nineties during the month of September and many growers were faced with the dilemma of picking too early or waiting too long – especially in the Valley where daytime temperatures were much warmer. On September 22nd we had a high of 98 degrees and some of the grapes on the mountain started to roll in.
As often happens on the mountain, October brought an extended period of ideal ripening weather with temperatures mostly in the high 70s and low 80s. Those with patience were rewarded as the seeds became large, fat and dark brown and the flavors developed to full maturity. During the last week of the month the weather warmed to the mid and upper 80s and harvest was in full swing. We picked most of our Cabernet on the 26th after a couple of days in the mid 80s.
The season ended abruptly along with the month of October. In the last three days of the month, the high temperature dropped 35 degrees and never came back. Most of the mountain fruit was harvested in these last few days of Indian summer, long after the valley fruit had been put to bed. Our last lot was picked on the 30th, and on the 31st it rained hard and never broke 52 degrees. With great appreciation and wonder, we worked the last lots in the cellar marveling at the soft tannins and full, ripe fruit that we all pray for each year.
Thanks to Marv Atchley, Atchley Vineyard for the temperature data.
Tad and Pete Minor, Winemakers, Ritchie Creek Vineyard
The 2002 vintage can be characterized by the extreme heat felt throughout the summer and into the fall. Starting with a moderate spring, we experienced an average bud break and bloom, but then there was some heavy late rain towards the end of May that affected the set of Merlot and some Cabernet. Less than two weeks later we had temperatures above 100 degrees! A pattern of moderate temperatures with heat spikes continued through August and into September with a total of six heat waves above 100 degrees. Starting in late August, the heat really intensified.
The vines were already advanced, but they were in desperate need of water to reach the desired physiological ripeness. The heat did not relent and in the first days of September the mercury pinned above the century mark again. These two spikes really hammered many vineyards requiring them to pick the whites and early reds as fast as possible. The vines that lasted through this period were blessed with a few weeks to soak up some water and let those skins ripen. The acids began to drop out at this point and the pHs began to climb. Many of the red grapes on the mountain began to flood into the wineries. Then the final blast of off shore flow dealt the vines about all the heat they could handle in late September.
By the middle of October much of the picking on Spring Mountain was complete. The key to success in 2002 was watering the vines at the right time to manage the heat. The vines needed time to ripen out the acid rather than dehydration, thus concentrating the acid. Also canopy management factored in heavily in preventing (or in some cases allowing) substantial sunburn. Lower yields and ample ripening weather led to many deeply concentrated, rich, ripe wines. The moderate to low acid in the vintage due to the heat led to wines that may be ready to consume earlier than in other vintages. Overall, the 2002 vintage was memorable for the heat and for having some free time by Halloween.
Sam Baxter, Winemaker, Terra Valentine
The year started with a fairly early bud break, mid-March, and stayed on an early track for the rest of the season. We had nice dry weather during bloom, which resulted in a good fruit set and good crop levels, both on Spring Mountain and throughout the Napa Valley. A plot of the high temperatures shows an abrupt upward trend starting in late April culminating with one 100°F day during the first week of July. This was followed by another definite change during the remainder of July and August where the hottest days were in the low 90°s, but generally in the mid to upper 80°F range. Starting the first of September, there is another well defined trend of gradually decreasing temperatures.
The early warmth combined with a slightly reduced, but fairly constant level of warm temperatures starting in July resulted in an early harvest throughout our Appellation. At Paloma, we picked our first grapes on August 29th – the earliest we have started harvest since we began making wine in 1994 and finished on October 11th. The warmth of the growing season resulted in fairly high sugars as we waited for flavor development and although some of the wines had high alcohol levels, but the result was wonderfully rich wines with big frit forward wines. A great vintage on Spring Mountain and the Napa Valley in general.
Thanks to Marv Atchley, Atchley Vineyard for the temperature data.
Jim Richards, Winemaker, Paloma Vineyard
The year 2000 was one of the more puzzling vintages that winegrowers have dealt with
in northern California wine country in recent years. The physiological signals from the vines were quite confusing and it became evident that the vines themselves were out of rhythm. Both prior years, ’98 and ’99, began with late budbreak and brought late harvests, concluding for most Spring Mountain growers in the month of November.
The 2000 growing season began with early bud break, which upset the internal rhythms of the vines, resulting in an uneven, tracking / ripening season. The weather also played a part with heat spikes that caused premature dehydration of fruit with afternoon sun exposure. Thinning became important to remove flaccid fruit with green seeds and patience became critical to permit seed maturation in the remaining grapes. Grapevines simply can’t understand an 11-month year and in the final analysis, though bud break was early, the real fruit maturation associated with flavor development wound up being quite late. The last of the Cabernets were harvested in November once again.
Bob Foley, Winemaker, Pride Vineyards