2023 Harvest Report

9/30/2023 4:22:49 AM

2023 Harvest Report | By Christian Palmaz

As of Oct 30th, 2022, the end of harvest.

By April 1st, I was a broken record asking Tina if anyone on the team had seen bud break in the reds.  “Nope, still nothing,” they’d answer.  Quickly pulling up my iPad, I’d show the team other vintages where cold and wet winters drug on delaying bud break, but they were already ahead of me.  Late starts are nothing unusual but we normally would make up the time with a fast moving spring or warm summer.  What was unusual about the 2023 vintage was that we would turn a 1 week delay into 3-4 weeks by the end of the vintage.  This year would be referred to by many as the methodical vintage, and just might be one of the best in recent memory.

Bud break kicked off the red vintage on April 3rd in the middle of a significantly cool and wet spring.  It wouldn’t be until the end of April that any warming trend would hint at a summer transition.  The Riesling grapes, grown exclusively at the 1200′ vineyard, showed bud break on April 21st, the latest ever recorded for the speckled white grape.  This was an indicator that not only were the other varietals behind, but there was a significant disparity between the upper and lower vineyards.

However alarming, we have been here before.  Vintages such as 2006 and 2011 had similar cooler springs and late bud breaks, a comforting thought considering how fantastic those two vintages turned out to be, especially 2006.  The playbook for cooler starts is always the same; prune early, open up the canopy, and aggressively leaf the fruiting zone.  Over do it however, and you risk sun damaged fruit in a hot late summer as seen in 2022.  The 2006 and 2011 vintages were blessed with long growing seasons and opportunity to make up for lost time.  Vintages such as 2010 were less fortunate in the fall with Mother Nature slamming the door closed with atmospheric rivers dumping harvest ending rains day after day.  No one knew what the end of the 2023 vintage would bring.

By mid August, even our aggressive canopy management playbook wasn’t gaining back the lost time of the spring.  The summer, although beautiful, was cooler on average by almost double digit ºF.  The upper vineyards continued to look a month behind the lower vineyards who were almost a month behind 2022.  It was clear we would need a sympathetic ending of the season to develop the flavors and structure we knew the vintage was capable of.

Harvest began quite late on September 27th with the lower vineyard Chardonnay and although sugars were slightly lower, flavors and aromatics were spectacular.  With one eye on the long term forecast Tina, Mia, and Doug kept pushing off harvest of red grape parcels.  Thanks to cooler temperatures, shrivel was not a concern and even green flavors were practically absent.  The fruit was beautiful and vibrant with brix slowly climbing.

October 2nd marked the first day of the lower vineyard red grape harvest and October 19th the first of an upper vineyard red grape harvest.  Although we had two days of showers, the grapes skins were in such great shape from the moderate conditions that no one feared hanging through the weather.  The team was infatuated with the stunning fruit character and now juice in the fermenters.

Harvest wrapped up on October 28th with the last Cabernet parcel at 1400′ getting picked.  With yields slightly lower than average, the 2023 vintage will likely be a slight departure from the “biggest” Napa vintages.  The alcohol might be two to three tenths lower than some of the hotter vintages on record, but I promise you won’t miss it.  These methodical vintages were nature forces you to slow down and savor every day of the growing season have a tendency to be some of my favorite in the cellar.  I suspect the 2023 vintage will be among the best of that unique group.  Cheers to another great year!