Burrell School Vineyards winegrower Dave Moulton’s countenance betrayed a look of gratitude and weariness as he recapped harvest. It was the Friday before the last weekend of September, on the eve of the latest in a series of heatwaves, before the Glass Fire broke out in Napa.

“We’ve got everything in from both Pichon (the vineyard Moulton farms above the Lexington reservoir) and the estate vineyard, except for the cabernet franc and the cabernet sauvignon,” he said. “We’re just waiting for the sugars to come up. This heatwave might do it.”

He had grafted some of the petit verdot vines in the front of the schoolhouse on Summit Road over to cabernet sauvignon earlier this year, and the grapes were still plodding along toward ripeness.

Despite efforts to cut back on chardonnay grape production, Burrell’s vineyards persist in growing the varietal. Moulton’s late wife, Anne, planted the original vines at Burrell School from cuttings back in 1990 and 1991, digging holes and putting the cuttings into the ground. It was mostly chardonnay, along with a few experimental vines of zin, which proved unworkable at that site.

About 10 years ago, against Anne’s wishes, some of her beloved chardonnay was grafted to petit verdot to help plump up the red blends for which the winery was becoming known. After his wife’s death in November 2016, Moulton noticed that some of the vines he thought had been grafted to petit verdot remained chardonnay.

Earlier this year, Moulton decided he needed to graft back some of the rows of petit verdot in front of the winery to chardonnay on account of the latter’s growing popularity. After his vineyard manager had cut the heads off the vines in preparation for grafting, he discovered that the vines were already pushing what looked definitively like chardonnay spurs and leaves.

As to this year’s harvest, Moulton said he hadn’t noticed any evidence of smoke taint, but he was avoiding putting pinot and chardonnay into new oak barrels until after fermentation.

At Wrights Station Vineyard and Winery, winegrower Dan Lokteff also sounded a cautiously optimistic note, saying, “Overall it’s a decent year for us.”

Lokteff grows strictly pinot noir and chardonnay in his vineyard, initially planted off Summit Road in 1981. The tasting room is an updated farmhouse built in 1947, with outdoor space that has proved very handy of late.

He picked all the pinot noir a while ago, right after the brutal heat over Labor Day weekend. He admits it suffered a bit, and the smoky air didn’t help.

“Weirdest harvest ever, picking during the day with no sun at 1 p.m.,” Lokteff said.

Wrights Station still had yet to harvest some red grapes from Mark and Robin Porter’s nearby Lago Lomita Vineyard.

“Sangiovese and cabernet may come in this week,” Lokteff said, “and the cabernet franc to close it out.”

At the very top of the hill, Loma Prieta Winery harvested estate pinotage earlier in September.  The heat had raisined some of the clusters, which were left for the birds. The winery property, which is for sale, grows the highest-altitude pinotage in North America.

On the other side of the summit, Byington Winery on Bear Creek Road reported a pretty decent yield from its pinot noir vineyard, which was picked on Sept. 22-23. Winemaker Andrew Brenkwitz said the flavors were great so far, although he might have detected a bit of smoke on one of the blocks.

In the eastern hills above Los Gatos, Perrucci Family Vineyard is still in the midst of harvest, waiting on all its estate cabernet sauvignon and malbec. Winegrower Greg Perrucci said the syrah was all in, and he was just finishing up the sangiovese.

Perrucci said his concerns about smoke taint from the CZU fire had been allayed, thanks to grapes he’d gotten from John Bargetto’s Regan Vineyard in Corralitos.

“The pinot noir is tasting delicious,” he said, adding that he and Bargetto both did mock ferments on each other’s fruit and sent samples in for testing. The lab, Perrucci said, was “so backed up that they are shipping samples to Australia and New Zealand labs to get it all done quicker.”


By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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