Long, Unpredictable Season Wraps Up: Our Last Look at the 2010 Harvest
The dramatic grand finale of harvest in Napa and Sonoma culminated with Mother Nature delivering a few more curveballs before completing one of the most challenging and unique seasons in history. Montesquieu's properties fared extremely well under the vigilant care of our amazing team. Their skillful coordination and execution – from canopy and irrigation management to the puzzle of when to harvest, and every variable in between – showed that when push comes to shove, exceptional talent in the vineyard makes all the difference. Our experienced team, aided by the ideal locations of our parcels, yielded a pristine and healthy harvest – an enviable position not shared by many producers after such a roller coaster season.
One of the more difficult aspects of this growing season to manage has been unusually low and variable temperatures, and October was no exception. September closed as the first month during the entire growing season with above average temperatures, and the first half of October was dry and warm, with daily highs in the mid- 90's. But the weather flipped the second half of the month, resulting in below-average temperatures for the month as a whole.
But October brought with it new dramatic challenges: rain during harvest. Heavy precipitation threatened to invade the vineyards near the end of October, causing many growers to panic and pick early. But Stéphane and Hélène exercised patience. Having experienced more than two decades of harvests in rain-prone Bordeaux, Stéphane knows how to navigate wet Octobers without sacrificing grape quality.
After light rain on the 17th, a strong system moved in with the heaviest rain on the 23rd and 24th. The result by month's end was 8 to 9 days of rain, compared with the normal 3 to 4 days. None of our grapes experienced any dilution from the rain, as the slopes of our hillside locations ran the water off. (Although Hélène was relieved that the rain stopped on the 24th – sunny harvests are preferable, after all!) Thankfully, we did not have botrytis or any other humidity-induced diseases, as the sun popped out and winds kicked up in between the rain. This, combined with our parcels' slopes and soil composition, kept our vines dry from lingering humidity. Hélène observed that Bordeaux is rarely so fortunate, as the storm systems are often persistent with constant cloud cover and heavy humidity in between the showers.
All said and done, the maneuvering of such an eventful season resulted in lower yields for all of our parcels – which means less wine by volume, but ample concentration and depth. Hélène was very pleased with the outcome of harvest. "The fruit was super healthy, super clean with great flavor and freshness," she said. "We are excited to pilot fermentation – with what we are tasting, we expect very balanced, complex wines with nice extraction and fantastic freshness."
Overall the alcohol is slightly lower than usual, because the sugars were not as high at the time the grapes reached perfect ripeness – which is great news, as Hélène and Stéphane feel that grapes with lower sugar and alcohol levels help them craft wines of great finesse with minimum intervention.
As of October 29, all of our grapes were in, and our talented team smiled with the realization that one of the trickiest harvests in years was finally complete. The treat to the trick is the depth and breadth of skill and experience exhibited by our team as they triumphantly navigated with style and panache a menacingly complicated season that challenged even the most seasoned in the business.
Below are further parcel-by-parcel harvest details, which give additional insight into the nature of the season and the kind of wines we can expect down the road!
Our Ink Grade parcel began harvest on October 21, with the Merlot coming in first, followed by the Cab, both looking very healthy and ripe. The block is located within the Napa AVA at 1400 ft. elevation where Angwin, Howell Mountain and Pope Valley meet. The now 20-year old vines were some of the first vines planted after the phylloxera devastation in the early 1990s.
Our Howell Mountain AVA parcel started harvest October 26, bringing in the Cab and Cab Franc and harvesting at night to take advantage of ideal conditions and temperatures. This parcel is very distinctive with high density of planting, similar to Bordeaux – a rarity in Napa Valley.
Our Stagecoach Napa AVA Merlot and Cab Franc were the last to come in. The soil here is amazing, a very specific terroir – its rich, red earth and high elevation (2,000 ft.) result in very refined wines.
Our Lake County AVA Red Hills Cab was also harvested at night on the 27th. Being farther away in Lake County, it is especially important to harvest at night so as to keep the grapes cool during transport to the winery facility. The earlier to sorting and destemming the better!
Our Atlas Peak AVA Merlot was harvested on the 21st and was in fabulous shape. On the 21st Hélène reported that this was the first year she ever has seen traffic at 5:45 in the morning on Highway 29 – crazy harvest time!
Our Sonoma AVA parcels – Desnudos Merlot and Charlie Smith Cab – came in on the 26th and 27th showing brilliant fruit, farmed (certified) organically under Hélène, Stéphane and superstar grower Phil Coturri's watchful eyes.