Montesquieu Winery 2011 Pre-Harvest Update: Late and Light, Balanced and Concentrated

September 8, 2011, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi

Perfect weather at Ink Grade September 8, 2011 photo by Hélène Mingot

We caught up with our winemaker Hélène Mingot on the run between her bustling vineyard and cellar work to hear how pre-harvest conditions are shaping up for our parcels in Napa and Sonoma so far.

The vintage pattern in 2011 for both Napa and Sonoma shares some general similarities with 2010, which have been showing a trend for almost a decade now of cool growing seasons with later harvest times. This year, we are seeing a longer season due to a cool spring and late rain, with bloom and fruit set that was behind two to three weeks. The summer was cooler and milder than usual, with foggy mornings followed by mild sunny afternoons—only a few days in the 90s so far! This kept the pattern similar to last year, pushing projected harvest dates two to three weeks later than the norm.

The sunny warm weather of the last few weeks jump-started harvest into action, with grapes for sparkling wine production starting to come in for Sonoma on August 24 and in Napa on August 29. Currently our parcels are finished with veraison and in the final phase of waiting for the ideal moment to harvest. Veraison marks the end of leaf and cane growth and the onset of ripening, which is visible –and beautiful—as the process by which the grapes take on their particular varietal color.

Mid-veraison Ink Grade Cabernet Sauvignon

Overall Hélène is delighted with how our parcels look, and is particularly pleased with the balance in the vineyards. The combination of late bloom and fruit set plus late spring rain resulted in low yields, which means smaller clusters. When these conditions are managed well in the vineyard, these small clusters have great intensity and character and result in fantastic tasting grapes and wines! Additionally the smaller clusters are easily monitored—when the clusters are looser, it allows for air flow to keep the grapes happy and dry – plus it is much easier to see each grape to ensure pristine clusters. The drawback is that lighter crops ripen more quickly which means everyone has to be ready to run at the drop of a hat!

Hélène told us that even though 2011 shares general similarities with 2010, the variables for each parcel and microclimate were actually quite different between vintages. She said this is to be expected no matter the region. The following are snapshots of a few of our parcels so far.

Generally speaking, ripening occurs slower in the mountainous high elevation appellations. However, our Ink Grade Cabernet–20 year old vines high atop Howell Mountain well above the fog line – was the first parcel to finish veraison. Even with the cooler climate, the sunny exposure kept things moving. No crop thinning was required, with lovely balance throughout. The following photo was taken by Hélène this morning, with lovely even and dark clusters.

Ink Grade Cabernet finished with veraison

In contrast, another Howell Mountain site with Cabernet and Cabernet Franc were the last to start veraison. We had to do very little crop thinning in this vineyard, and the grapes are ripening evenly and steadily. Up on Atlas Peak, our Stagecoach Merlot is progressing notably well, with a particularly tiny yield and amazing concentration.

In Sonoma, our Charlie Smith parcel, managed by renowned organic grower Phil Coturri, is the exception in that the conditions of last year and this year’s harvests are remarkably similar. The Cab is looking super with moderate yields, and both Hélène and Phil are really happy.

Lake County’s summer weather was characterized by no fog and early sun – which ultimately translates to very little intervention. Hélène loves our plot’s small, even, excellently balanced clusters. She thinks 2011 will be the most exciting fruit yet from our Red Hills vineyard parcel. We have had some brilliant fruit from previous vintages at Red Hills, so it is hard to imagine any better! We look forward to finding out what Hélène and Stéphane craft with this vintage.

We have a very exciting new Montesquieu Winery parcel of Cabernet Sauvignon farmed by Phil Coturri – the Oakville Ranch vineyard in Napa. This site, just southeast of Dalla Valle off of the Silverado Trail, is perfectly positioned at 1,400 feet elevation in the renowned Oakville appellation. It is no wonder Stéphane and Hélène fell for this site immediately with its red volcanic soil and perfect exposure. We are fortunate to have joined an exclusive few that acquire grapes from this vineyard which include top cult wine producers.

Oakville Ranch is in an earlier ripening terroir, and so far this year, is accordingly farther along than almost all of our properties and looks excellent! Even with such established properties, Hélène is intimately involved with the vineyard management, ultimately having the final say in order to assure the grapes are in the pristine condition and style she expects for our exacting standards. She and Phil have enjoyed collaborating to establish our vineyard protocol for this site.

The weather has been sunny and beautiful, with temperatures in the 80s, and is projected to continue for at least the next week or so. As a result ripening is proceeding very well. This final phase before harvest is about fine-tuning—making small changes in the canopy or size of clusters, ensuring the fruit is receiving proper sun exposure and the clusters are the ideal size for each varietal. And now we wait for just the right moment to harvest.

Sunny conditions, now we wait....Ink Grade September 8,2011

Hélène’s experience in diverse regions, having collaborated with Stéphane Derenoncourt in Europe before coming to California, bestows her with a rich foundation of skills and sensibilities to draw from.

Hearing her talk about the final phase of waiting for the right time to harvest, of tasting the grapes and knowing just when to pick, one gets the sense of her natural confidence. She just knows—much like a parent knows a child—from nurturing the vines in every phase of their development, and from her experience.

We have much to look forward to as our team prepares for harvest, and look forward to what this vintage will bring for our Montesquieu wines. We’ll be sure to keep you well informed, so stay tuned to the blog for the latest developments. Cheers and happy harvest season from all of us to all of you!


2 Responses to Montesquieu Winery 2011 Pre-Harvest Update: Late and Light, Balanced and Concentrated

  1. Dary on September 9, 2011 2:28 pmOK I cant wait any more!
  2. Lisa Duff Khajavi on September 9, 2011 3:20 pmThankfully Helene is very patient!

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