With the bulk of wine grapes on the North Coast now harvested and in the cellar, winemakers are reflecting on what is being viewed as the triple threat of the 2017 vintage. The wet spring gave way to the Labor Day heat spike, capped off by October’s devastating wildfires.
While the quality of the vintage is too early to call, lower yields are expected across the board.
The big surprise? The Labor Day heat spike, pushing 105 degrees F. for three consecutive days in Sonoma & Napa counties, proved to be a silver lining for some.
“In retrospect, the heat wave was probably a good thing as it moved ripening along,” said Fel winemaker Ryan Hodgins. “We would likely still have had fruit on the vine at the time of the fires, if not for the heat.”
Iron Horse Vineyards in Sebastopol also had its fruit harvested long before the wildfires.
“The grapes were already mature before the heat spike,” said winemaker David Munksgard. “It was a matter of harvesting through the heat spike, always considering the health and welfare of our harvest crew.”
The biggest challenge for Munksgard was the near record winter rain, followed by the late spring rain.
“It gave the vines way too much growth, producing water in the root zone,” he said. “The vines seemingly did not want to stop growing. We had to do much, much more leaf pulling and canopy hedging than normal to get [sun]light into the fruit zone.”
In addition to troubleshooting heavy rains, some vintners also had to deal with a labor shortage after the wildfires.
Vintner Nick Goldschmidt of his namesake winery in Healdsburg said one of the most wrenching aspects of the year was reeling in enough harvest workers in the aftermath of the fires.
“I only had two vineyards to pick and that was bad enough,” Goldschmidt said. “I am sure that other wineries were a lot less fortunate.”
The wildfires also posed a logistical challenge for David Ramey of Healdsburg’s Ramey Cellars.
“We picked our last grapes the night the fires broke out, October 8—Hyde merlot,” Ramey said. “Chris Hyde couldn’t deliver them Monday the 9t because Highway 101 was closed, so he stored them in his winery overnight and delivered the next day.”
The winemakers said 2017 will be remembered as the vintage of the wildfires, but it actually had a trio of challenges wrapped into one growing season. That said, they aren’t discouraged. Ramey, for one, said his wines are already showing well in the barrel.
Napa Valley Wine Train’s packages
Quattro Vino Journeys ($332 to $392 per person.)
The Famiglia Tour. The six-hour trip from Napa to Rutherford features a four-course meal and tours of Silverado Vineyards, Whitehall Lane Winery and Grgich Hills Estate.
The Estate Tour. The six-hour trip from Napa to St. Helena features a four-course meal and tours of Domain Chandon, HALL Wines and Inglenook.
The Collective Tour. The six-hour trip from Napa to St. Helena features a four-course meal and tours of St. Supery Estate Vineyards, Beringer Winery and Raymond Vineyards.
The Legacy Tour. The six-hour trip from Napa to St. Helena, features a four-course meal and tours of Robert Mondavi Winery, Charles Krug Winery and V. Sattui Winery.
Castle Winery Tour. The one-and-a-half hour trip from Napa to Calistoga features a gourmet lunch and an exclusive tour and tasting at Castello di Amorosa. ($269 to $334 per person.)
Raymond Winery Tour. The one-and-a-half hour trip from Napa to St. Helena features a gourmet lunch and an exclusive tour and tasting at Raymond Vineyards. ($209 to $229 per person.)
Grgich Hills Winery Tour. The two-hour trip from Napa to Rutherford features a gourmet lunch and an intimate tour and tasting at Grgich Hills Estate. ($209 to $229per person.)
Ambassador Winery Tour. The one-and-a-half hour trip from Napa to St. Helena features a gourmet lunch and exclusive tours and tastings at Charles Krug Winery and Raymond Vineyards. ($269 to $334 per person.)
Hop Train. The two-hour tour of Napa Valley in the Open Air car every Monday features tastes of local craft beers and bites from Palisades Beer Co. (Begins at $75 per person.)
The Vista Dome. The three-hour tour of Napa Valley, offered at lunch and dinner in the two-story Vista Dome, an elevated dining car, features a gourmet meal with a glass of sparkling wine. ($214 to $244 per person.)
The Gourmet Express. The three-hour tour of Napa Valley, offered at lunch and dinner in the refurbished antique Pullman rail cars, features a gourmet meal and a glass of wine. ($139 to $169 per person.)
Murder Mystery. The three-hour tour of Napa Valley features dining on a gourmet meal with a glass of wine while figuring out who-done-it in the murder mystery dinner theatre. ($195 to $215 per person.)
Meet the Maker. The three-hour evening rail tour of Napa Valley features a four-course gourmet dinner with a selection of wine from the featured winery, tasting notes from the winemaker, and food pairings. (Begins at $272 per person.)
Blue Note Express Music & Dinner Train. The four-hour tour of Napa Valley, offered every Thursday night, features a glass of sparkling wine and appetizers onboard the new Open Air rail car with a Napa-style meal, a live performance from the “Wine Train Quartet” and a ticket to the 9:30 p.m. show at Blue Note Napa. (Begins at $213 per person.)
Santa Trains: The annual Santa Trains, from Napa to Yountville, feature an interactive adventure and offer its passengers holiday bites and beverages, along with games, sing-alongs, and a fun cast of holiday-inspired characters. (Prices not yet set.)