Through the Grapevine: California's 2014 Harvest

 By Alex Fondren 

From south to north, the 2014 California harvest is in full swing, and word on the street already has this year pegged as another promising vintage. Temperatures have been almost identical to 2013, and while things are moving at a slower pace, winemakers are tentatively optimistic that quality should meet expectations.

The successful harvests of 2012 and 2013 left some pretty big shoes to fill throughout the state. At Casey Flat Ranch in the Capay Valley to the northeast of Napa Valley, harvest officially started on August 4th—the earliest on record for the estate—with their Sauvignon Blanc. However, in spite of the early pick dates, winemaker Laura Barrett reports the quality of white grapes coming in are comparable to last year’s. The red grape harvest, on the other hand, is seeing similar quantities, but smaller berry sizes this year, which could produce an even more concentrated wine. Reds started coming in on August 25th—the estate’s flagship Syrah and Cabernet gapes were harvest the following week. Due to mild temperatures in August and cooler nights, the timing of the red grape harvest was almost identical to last year’s. Casey Flat Ranch still has about two tons of Mourvedre on the vine, which is always a later ripening variety. With smooth sailing in the cellar (so far!) and promising tannic structures throughout crush, Barrett says, “2013 will be hard to beat, but this year could be the runner up.”

Casey Flat Ranch winemaker Laura Barrett on the vineyard  (photo by CCA)

Casey Flat Ranch winemaker Laura Barrett on the vineyard (photo by CCA)

Lodi winegrowers are picking early and fast. Stuart Spencer, vintner for St. Amant Winery says many of the reds are ripening up simultaneously causing somewhat of a scramble for harvest crews, trucks and equipment. Spencer says though heat conditions are almost identical to last year, his crew has been picking two to three weeks earlier due to light crops of the old vine Zinfandels. Stewart indicated that overall, quality looks to be exceptional with yields down all across the board: “Our old vine Zins are producing some of the lightest crops we have seen many years. One particular seven-acre block that we've been working with since 1996 produced only one ton per acre. In my experience, these low yields lead to pretty intense and concentrated Zins.”

Harvest in Lodi (photo by Randy Caparoso)

Harvest in Lodi (photo by Randy Caparoso)

Napa Valley has seen more of a ‘hurry up and wait’ situation, with a flowering and fruit-set that started off quickly—many in the valley thought harvest would come very early as a result. The cooler second half of August, however, coupled with the foggy blanket of early September has slowed harvest down considerably. In terms of quality, Hourglass Wines’ winemaker Tony Biagi is excited with how the vintage is shaping up. “This 2014s could be an amalgam of the ripe precocious 2012s and the dense age-worthy 2013s. We have along way to go till all the horses are in the barn, but at this point it is very promising.”

Tony Biagi of Hourglass  (photo by Kent Hanson)

Tony Biagi of Hourglass (photo by Kent Hanson)

Across the Mayacamas Mountains in Sonoma, yields are coming in as expected, but with better acids than anticipated. Kirk Lokka, vineyard manager for Emeritus Vineyards is pleased with the results so far. “It has been a warm year up until recently at the end of the season. Warm nights normally mean no acid so we’re happily surprised that we have high acid in the fruit,” he says. The drought seemed to have had minimal impact on the harvest with “normal” yields that were slightly lower than 2012 and 2013. Emeritus picked early and fast, but not quite as fast as last year. Their last day of harvest was September 13th.

We’ll keep our ears to the ground for more updates as grapes continue their annual pilgrimage from the vineyards to the wineries, and eventually—into our glasses. Cheers!

All the Swirl is a collections of thoughts and opinions assembled by the staff and industry friends of Charles Communications Associates, a marketing communications firm with its headquarters in San Francisco, California. We invite you to explore more about our company and clients by visiting