Montesquieu Winery Reviews the Roller Coaster 2010 Harvest

December 6, 2010, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi

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.  Here at Montesquieu Winery, we’re pleased to report that our parcels fared extremely well under the vigilant care of our team.  Their focused 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, care and experience in the vineyard make all the difference.  Aided by the ideal locations of our parcels, we were able to bring in a pristine and healthy harvest – which we’re thankful for after such a roller coaster season.

Hélène Mingot Samples Montesquieu Grapes, Tasting for Optimal Ripeness

Montesquieu Winemaker Hélène Mingot Tastes for Optimal Ripeness in October

One of the more difficult aspects of this growing season to manage was the 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.  (To learn more about what happened earlier in the Napa/Sonoma 2010 growing season, as well as in Europe, click here.)

Max Temperatures Precipitation Degree Days
March Normal Below Average 50-100 below normal
April Below normal Above Average 80-180 below normal
May Below normal Above Average 130-160 below normal
June Normal Below Average Near normal
July Below normal None 60-100 below normal
August Below normal None 60-100 below normal
September Above normal Below Average Near normal
October Below normal Above Average 30-70 below normal

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 with great finesse while minimizing intervention.

As of October 29th, all of our grapes were in, and our exhausted team smiled with the realization that one of the trickiest harvests in years was finally complete.

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 21st, 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 26th, 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.

Mystical Stagecoach Just Above the Fog Line in Napa Valley

Stagecoach Napa Valley

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 (approx. 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 great shape.  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.


10 Responses to Montesquieu Winery Reviews the Roller Coaster 2010 Harvest

  1. Stephen George on December 9, 2010 4:23 pmGreat post, Lisa! It's so fascinating to learn the nuts and bolts of harvest up close and personal. Can't wait to hear what's happening in the cellar!
  2. Lisa Duff Khajavi on December 9, 2010 4:35 pmThanks Stephen! Right now in the cellar our lots are doing great at Arkenstone on Howell Mountain, in the phase of extended maceration. Humming along in this awesome facility. Almost all underground, which is incredible to maintain steady, ideal temperatures, and 100% gravity-fed. Very modern and efficient, really super!
  3. joshc on December 10, 2010 9:11 amI love Napa, great photos here on the blog...
  4. Lisa Duff Khajavi on December 10, 2010 9:49 amThank you Josh! We are so excited about our blocks in Napa, such special terroir. This is a great time of year to visit Napa and Sonoma. No summer crowds or traffic to deal with, and even though harvest time is very special, right now everyone would have a bit more time to chat, pull out special reserves and the like!
  5. Emily on December 13, 2010 11:17 amGood point, Lisa. The downside of visiting wine country now is the lack of color on the vines (those autumn red leaves are stunning). But that's far outweighed by the lack of busyness on the roads and in the tasting rooms!
  6. Lisa Duff Khajavi on December 13, 2010 11:50 amHard to beat those fall colors! It is wonderful, though, to be able to take more time and have unhurried conversations. There are also the mustard blossoms in the spring-so lovely! I guess each time of year has its special advantages--no bad time to visit wine country!
  7. Tony Connell on December 13, 2010 3:47 pmGotta love a vintage like this, if every year was simply warm and dry, why even bother drinking wine? It's years like this when terroir shines brightest and the true talent shows up. Can't wait to get to know these wines over the years..
  8. Lisa Duff Khajavi on December 13, 2010 4:03 pmHelene and Stephane--our dynamic duo! Talent truly makes all the difference.
  9. Lisa Duff Khajavi on December 28, 2011 12:06 pmThank you! Happy Holidays!
  10. Lisa Duff Khajavi on December 28, 2011 12:07 pmThanks, so much to say about the world of wine! Happy Holidays!

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