Long Meadow Ranch

Good news in the grapes Growers thrilled with average-sized, top-quality crop

The Napa Valley Register Thursday, October 5, 2000

Register Staff Writer

Boasting moderate yields and exceptional fruit, the first grape crush of the new millennium has proven a "harvest from heaven," according to members of the Napa Valley Vintners Association.

With about three-fourths of the crop in, it is clear the crop will be moderate in size but hopes are high for exceptional wine.

"Finally a normal year," professes Bernard Portet, president of Clos Du Val Wine Company.

"Cool winter, warm spring, relatively cool summer. This looks like the perfect way to start this millennium."

Calling vintage 2000 "a textbook year for grapes," grower/vintner Andy Hoxsey, owner of Napa Wine Company and NVVA member, kicked off a walkabout tour of his Oakville operation for the media late Wednesday morning, during which he and other members of local trade group offered personal assessments of the current grape crush.

Citing "exceptional quality and substantial yields," Hoxsey and other industry leaders spent about an hour telling reporters that vintage 2000, by and large, was nevertheless fairly uneventful.

Save for a mini heat wave in June -- where the mercury climbed to 118 degrees in Calistoga -- and another heat spike in early September, and a couple of dust-settling rains as the harvest began, this year's harvest appears notable for its normalcy.

"But it's the unremarkable vintages that result in the best wines," declared NVVA president Jack Stuart, recalling similar conditions during the growing seasons in both 1985 and 1987, bellwether harvests of the past two decades.

As much as 20 to 25 percent of this year's crop remains to be harvested, NVVA officials estimated Wednesday -- mostly cabernet sauvignon, merlot and as much as two-thirds of the county's sangiovese tonnage.

At first, vintners felt this year's crop might rival the bumper crop harvested in 1997, Stuart noted. With cluster weights down, however, instead of coming close to the 144,000 tons of grapes brought in three years ago, this year's crush will probably approach 125,000 tons instead, he added.

A three day heat wave in June inflicted this year's only significant crop damage, he added. Some fruit was sunburned and later cut from the bunches as growers inspected their crops.

"We had a long, cool season -- a cool summer and fall -- ideal grapegrowing weather with warm days and cool nights," added vintner Cathy Corison, who makes wine for Long Meadow Ranch Winery as well as for her own brand. "For color and flavor development, we need those cool nights.

"We had an average bud break this spring, but our harvest is some seven to 10 days later than average. And we were pleased that the threat of early fall rains really didn't materialize."

"The grapes faired far better than winemakers' nerves," Bouchaine Vineyards winemaker David Stevens admitted. "I found myself watching the Weather Channel at four in the morning. Weather forecasts were tougher on my ulcer than on the grapes."

Stevens was pleased that grapes were picked at "optimum maturity ... when the whole package was in balance."

Winegrowers are equally enthusiastic about whites, reds and the grapes harvested this year for sparkling wines.

"We're very thrilled about our chardonnay," advises Grgich Hills Cellars' vineyard manager Ivo Jeramaz. "It's similar to 1997, which was one of our best vintages ever."

"So far the big news from my perspective is the quality of the chardonnay -- the best chardonnay grapes I've tasted in 21 years," agreed Jim Frisinger, Napa Valley vineyard manager for Beringer Wine Estates.

Noting the sparkling wine harvest was "fast and furious," John Anderson, managing director of S. Anderson Vineyard, feels both fruit quality and flavors "are excellent, with lighter color -- an asset in grapes destined for sparkling wine."

"We have very high expectations for this vintage," adds Schramsberg winemaker Mike Reynolds. "We're excited about the high acidity, which gives us crispness and length in the finished wines."

"We have expectations of a fairly large crop, approximately 80 percent of the tonnage of the 1997 harvest," notes John Gibson, winemaker at Frazier Winery. "The cabernet sauvignon crops are the best since 1997."

Mitch Cosentino, president of Cosentino Winery, says this year's red grapes have "big acid and big bright fruit. The hang time on the vine, combined with the exceptional acid balance, reminds me of the 1985 vintage, but more complex. The merlot is intense and with spectacular balance. It should rival the best we've seen over the last 15 years, including the 1997 vintage."

It was Corison who, perhaps, summed up everyone's feelings for the 2000 harvest. "When my 112-year-old house without air conditioning cools down every night, I know it's going to be a good vintage."


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