On March 16 we bottled a wine which we have dubbed "Kate’s Label" because the design harkens back to the mid-1980's when Cam and Kate Solari Baker bottled some red wine for "in-house consumption only". The slick, handsome update to Kate’s original design truly represents the wine which we feel is classic in its form. Andy has described the wine as reminiscent of the 1997 and 2000 Larkmead in its youth because of its ease in drinking coupled with its nuanced fruit, floral and herbal notes that are signature Larkmead.
The composition of the wine has Larkmead stamped all over it. Not only is the wine composed of all five red grape varieties from the Estate, but also is one of the most complex wines that we have ever blended - it includes 14 of the 23 red grape clones we have on the property and was a barrel selection of over 80% of the fermentations we produced in the 2010 harvest. The wine, a blend of 54% Cabernet, 31% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 4% Malbec, is truly the epitome of Larkmead Vineyards from the 2010 vintage.
The 2010 "Kate’s Label" was lightly oaked in its aging (30% new French oak barrels) and was bottled un-fined and unfiltered. It is expected to see an early release this summer in our tasting room and will offer a preview of what is to come from the 2010 vintage red wines. We’ll be making the final blends of the Firebelle and Cabernet in short time and will be bottling these wines in July. We'll send an update from the cellar when those wines are in bottle. Prior to that we owe you a peek under the covers of the 2011 vintage red wines as we are now beginning to evaluate the wines as they have finished maloactic fermentation and are resting nicely in barrel.
The 2011 vintage is over. The young wines are now in barrel and have given us a peek under the covers of what to expect from them; and I can happily say that Twenty-Eleven vintage would make the old-timers - Larry Solari, Louis Martini, Robert Mondavi, George de Latour, Charlie Beringer and Andre Tchelistcheff - swoon.
Twenty-Eleven as a vintage started out brilliantly – long, cool growing season, some late Spring rains thinning out the potentially robust crop, near average summer temps with no elongated heat spikes – the vines were happy. Almost immediately post verasion in late August we began to see mature flavors in grapes that we all hope for in a vintage. Temperatures remained average in September, vines remained healthy, there was an incredible purity to the fruit flavors and balanced ripening (sugar, acid, tannin) was in front of us. At Larkmead we were excited about the prospect of harvesting at our own schedule; anticipating the year to follow a trajectory like 2006 when red grape harvest was spread out over a period of more than a month.
However, two and a half inches of rain over the course of one week in early October changed our plans. Up and down Highway 29 there was a bit of cautious optimism; the un-spoken question was whether we would be able to harvest before the next potential rainfall. Thankfully that wasn’t an issue as the next two weeks saw higher than average temperatures with a few days peaking above 90F. On October 20th we began picking Cabernet. Six days and a 120 tons later we took a break to focus on winemaking.
Those first three weeks of October made for a tough vintage; no one knew for sure what to expect from the potential wines. But, in the cellar, it wasn’t long before we were enthusiastic about what was before us. The fermentations were text-book healthy; temperatures trended nicely to a peak 86F and sugars converted to alcohol at an even pace. We averaged about 22 days on the skins and secondary fermentations are currently taking place in barrel.
The early read on the wines is exciting. The balanced flavors we saw early on in the vineyard are present throughout the wines we put to barrel. The vintage will be characterized by its ease of drinkability – bright, balanced red wines that will find a place at the table in their youth and will gain weight and deep nuances in their mid-life (think the 2005 wines right now) before returning to their red fruit dominant, dried-herb, tobacco and refreshing acid and tannin (think the 1998 and 2000 wines right now) structure that will hold them for aging of 10+ years. We’ll be fully evaluating the wines in January when they have finished maloactic fermentation. A further write-up and an update on the bottling of the 2010 vintage in barrel will be posted then. In the meantime, have a great Holiday season, everyone here at Larkmead wishes you health, happiness and good drinking.
2009 Wines: At the end of June we put the 2009 LMV Salon, Solari and The Lark into bottle. Collectively, these three wines reach the epitome of our Estate vineyard. The LMV Salon is what we believe to be the truest expression of Larkmead’s vineyard – from the composition of the blend (which typically mirrors the vineyard being planted to 60% Cabernet) to the aromatic and textural profile of the wine.
While LMV Salon is a complete picture; Solari and The Lark bring Cabernet into focus. Since its inception in 2001; Solari has been made from a blend of two or three of the parcels that most reflect the nuanced power and structure of Larkmead Cabernet in any given vintage. Since 2007 certain parcels have reached vine maturity and have anchored Solari’s production. This makes us extremely excited to be working with these parcels given annual vintage variation.
The Lark is made of a barrel selection from one of our prized parcels that resides in our rockiest soils prior to the vineyard sloping into the Napa River. That is all I want to say about the wines right now, as a full report will trickle down the pipe when the 2009 LMV Salon releases in early 2012.
2010 Wines: On these pages back in April I jotted some notes about the 2010 wines. The wines were in early stages of development and showing well. Since then, we’ve had the opportunity to revisit the wines in barrel and consider some final blends before we head into harvest.
First off, the 2010 Firebelle, a wine that always presents its future potential early, is near stunning and if representative of the entire vintage, we will be quite pleased overall. The Estate Cabernet had been holding its cards close to vest during the long Winter and Spring. We made an early blend back in March and held out some components that we’ll blend in later this year that truly fill out the density of the wine while maintaining its vintage character –highly perfumed aromatics with bright red and blue fruit freshness and persistent acid and tannic structure to complete the wine.
The parcels we had designated early on for LMV Salon and Solari expressed themselves true to form – darker, denser, more powerful wines that elevate the vineyard signature. Next week we will be blending these wines in the cellar and can’t wait to revisit them after the 2011 harvest.
2011 Growing Season: There is a story that Larkmead’s proprietor, Kate Solari Baker, told at a dinner party when I first started working for the winery that resonates with me daily during the growing season. Kate’s dad, Larry Solari, was a pioneer in wine sales and marketing during the middle of the 20th Century; he was friendly with Robert Mondavi and on more than one occasion Mondavi referred to Larry Solari as his mentor. In 1979, Mondavi partnered with Baron Philippe Rothschild of Chateau Mouton Rothschild to launch Opus One in Napa Valley. This was a momentous occasion for Napa Valley’s wine industry which was riding the high of the famed “Judgment of Paris” tasting in 1976. The Solari family was invited to the opening celebration for the winery; in attendance was Kate and her mom, Polly Solari. In fashion with the Royal Court, there was a greeting line to meet the Baron. When Polly was introduced to the Baron, he politely asked what it is she does for a living. Polly replied, “I’m a farmer.” Without breath or hesitation the Baron responded, “so am I.”
When we think of the great estates of Napa or Bordeaux, the cult wines and the fabled classics, lest we forget, wine begins with farming. With Mother Nature dictating our fate, we’ve watched the 2011 growing season begin with a slow start - an extended wet Winter and late Spring. Unfortunate cold temps and rain during bloom have been devastating to some vineyards in Northern California and Larkmead has been effected as well but we’re optimistic that this vintage shows promise. Mother Nature’s natural selection on the vine has done some of our farming for us and we’re anticipating as the old saying goes, only the strong (most flavorful grapes) shall survive. I’ll keep you posted with an update on our Sauvignon Blanc harvest in about six weeks time and what the 2011 reds are looking like in early September. Until then, drink well.
It’s April in Napa Valley, Winter rains brought out a fresh field of cover crop earlier this year and the blue skies in the middle of March started bud break on the majority of Larkmead’s estate. Bud break is not yet complete and the vineyard crew is working around the clock protecting against frost as overnight temperatures have reached low-to-mid 30’s. However, in the cellar it has been a constant 58 degrees and we’ve undergone the process of evaluating the 2010 harvest. Here at Larkmead this process begins in January when the majority of the wines have finished maloactic (secondary) fermentation. Upon first blush we are very pleased with the vintage. The young wines show great promise – a soft core of fruit purity lifted by a fresh acidity and framed by refined tannins.
Flipping through my notes of our early tasting and blending trials, here’s a snippet for what is in store...
Merlot and early Firebelle trials: Floral aromatics atop plum and red fruit dominance; flavors in the mouth are presented tirelessly on the wine’s texture; the fresh acidity adds length to an elegant package; subtle balance dominates the wine and the vintage.
A-Block Cabernets and preliminary Estate Cabernet Blending trials: Broad, soft, red fruit – full and lip smacking; there is a purity to these wines that sings the elements of a long, cool growing season with just the right amount of sunshine right before harvest adding layers of forest floor, brambly fruit on the nose that are cleaned by a gravel-like minerality in the mouth; classic Napa Valley (Cabernet) fruit purity evolving towards Larkmead’s more darker, brooding side of tobacco and earthy structure; an overwhelming freshness dominants the wine almost begging you to take another sip.
Vineyard parcels slotted for Salon and Solari: Subtle but confident, reserved but powerful on the nose, in the mouth and through the finish; there is a maturity to these wines without skipping a grade; a darkness that is lifted by a consistent stream of texture born of red wines with both acid and tannin; exciting wines that will be a pleasure to watch develop in barrel for the next 20 months and bottle (if we can resist drinking them upon release).
After the first set of tastings and blending trials we began racking the wines and putting the pieces of the puzzle together. We chose to blend the Firebelle and Cabernet to allow for them to integrate and harmonize early in their elevage; as for the Salon and Solari we are letting the pieces evolve through the Springtime to show their full potential, we’ll sit down and re-taste those wines and make the final blends this summer. More on that as time goes by. Right now we need to pay attention to the 2009 wines that will be bottled mid-April and late June. An update on the 2009 vintage is coming soon, and be forewarned; these are some of our favorite wines produced since Larkmead starting bottling wines again in 1998. More soon and thanks for reading. Cheers.
We’re currently 80% in barrel and will be barreling the remaining lots that are finishing fermentation throughout the next couple of days. A thirty-six thousand foot harvest wrap up is in order, and I turn that over to Andy, who jotted this little bird’s eye view of the 2010 vintage.
Dan Petroski, Associate Winemaker
‘Form is temporary, class is permanent’
This nice little quote encapsulates my feeling toward the 2010 growing season. As our final vineyard lots find their way to barrel we can reflect on a growing season that presented a series of challenges (don't they always though?). The coolest summer for 40 years; a couple of ill-timed heat-spikes; early fall rains...take your pick. What is clear though, even at this early stage, is that the Larkmead Estate was up to the challenge. By implementing precise farming and harvesting decisions, we were ahead of the game all season and now find ourselves tasting some beautifully aromatic, pure and concentrated young wines, reminiscent of 2001 and 2007, that we will carefully blend over the next eighteen months into some ultimately memorable Larkmead bottlings. So here's a final piece of prudent wine buying advice... follow the vineyard, not the vintage.
Larkmead finished harvesting our last fruit on Thursday, October 21 (Cabernet from Block C-11).
We were not afraid of the rain we had this past weekend (a whopping 4 inches from Saturday to Sunday) as our fruit was scheduled to pick prior to the forecast. It seems each year, our picking schedule, falls outside of the norm in Napa Valley and we can credit that to two factors – (1) our vineyard is in a unique, warm and distinctive microclimate that offers early maturity on the vine even in cool years and (2) our style of winemaking skews towards capturing the essence of our vineyard site in all its elegance and purity. That being said, we are very fortunate to have had a great year. In the cellar we are very pleased with what the vintage has offered us with regards to the variety of wine styles – from elegant and soft to power and structure. As we all know and believe, the beauty of Larkmead is not in a singular parcel of land, the beauty is in the sum of its parts.
This week we will work with a number of fermentations that are going dry (finishing primary fermentation) and we will be draining and pressing the lots and prepping them for secondary fermentation (maloactic) in barrel. And the last couple of lots that we harvested last week are just about to begin fermentation, so we will be at it for another couple of weeks.
We’ll harvest the last three parcels of C-Block Cabernet on Wednesday and Thursday. By Thursday afternoon, all 15 of Larkmead’s tanks will be full and at various stages of fermentation development. The quality this year is cool climate, dark and elegant wines with potential low alcohols.
Larkmead began red grape harvesting on Saturday, October 2. And haven’t stopped processing since (and have no intention anytime soon as the weather has been near perfect since the heat wave). We could not be happier with the quality this year – full flavors and balanced vine maturity at low sugar levels. Here’s to it – as well as a summary of what we have harvested so far and what is to come.
Saturday, Oct. 2 – Tocai, Malbec and Petit Verdot
Monday – Merlot and Petit Verdot
Tuesday – Cabernet from three different A-Blocks
Wednesday – Cabernet from A-Block and a little Petit Verdot
Thursday – Cabernet Franc and Cabernet from C-Block
Friday – Cabernet from A-Block and Merlot
Saturday – Cabernet from A-Block
Next week; we are tentatively on the schedule to resume picking on Monday and Tuesday (A-Block). If the crystal ball is accurate, at that point we would be 75% picked out with a few stragglers from C-Block remaining.
After a heat spike which saw three consecutive days of over 100 degree temperatures (106, 112, 106), we saw Sauvignon Blanc flavors emerge rapidilly along with creeping up of sugar content. Thus, we began harvest of the B4 block surrounding the winery on Thursday, 9/2.
We are very happy with the quality although the yields in the Sauvignon Blanc crop are slightly reduced – cluster sizes this year are smaller than normal, especially after last year’s crop which was the largest recorded SB crop in California history. We completed harvest on Thursday, 9/9 with the last remaining grapes coming from the C8C block.
We’re very pleased with the potential this year as the long, cool growing season has created a depth of flavor and complexity that we’re excited about.
Larkmead's red wine grapes have finished verasion and have about 4 weeks of maturation on the vine before we consider harvesting.
Since we opened the doors to the Larkmead winery in 2005; we have been content to go about our business. Day in and day out we strive to grow Napa's finest grapes, make world class wines and open our tasting room doors to allow you to share in our experience. The facility at Larkmead is designed as a very efficient and effective workplace and since the beginning the staff has always been conscientious in their approach to our space and the environment around us. It has been paramount to us to respect our land, our community, our past, our present and our future. We've taken quiet, but deliberate steps to accomplish our goals; from sustainable farming and water conservation to supporting energy efficiency by giving back 30% of our energy to the Napa grid through our Solar panel installation and supporting Pacific Gas & Electric's Climate Smart program that makes Larkmead a Carbon Neutral energy consumer.
These efforts were recognized during an inspection of our facility on July 27th. And we are proud to say that we were informed by the Napa Valley Department of Environmental Management and the Association of Bay Area Government’s Green Business program, Larkmead has been recognized as a
Napa Green Certified Winery
The mission statement for the program is in line with our business philosophy - "to implement beneficial and verifiable environmental practices through; preserving and enhancing the environment of the Napa Valley, demonstrating a commitment to our community, and providing leadership for the wine industry."
We are not the first winery to take these steps to keep the Agricultural Preserve in focus. And we will not be the last. But we are happy to say, similar to our history when Larkmead was part of the founding members of the Napa Valley Vintners Association in 1944, that we are part of the founding members of the Green Winery program. With the program in its infancy, we are one of just under 10% of the Napa Valley Vintner members who can call themselves certified “Green” – some of those members include Araujo, Cakebread, Chateau Montelena, Etude, Merryvale, Opus One, Schramsberg and Spottswoode. Together we are attempting to sustain great winegrowing through the next generation. That is something we all should raise a glass to.
Dan Petroski, Associate Winemaker
Early July, just after our National Holiday, we finished bottling the 2008 red wines and bottled the first of our 2009 wines. The three wines (2008 Salon and Solari and 2009 Sauvignon Blanc) are classic Larkmead wines that truly represent a sense of place. If any of you have visited Larkmead and sat on the tasting room porch in the middle of our vineyards; you will understand what we mean when we say sense of place – a quiet, elegant experience that caters to the desire to relax and take another sip of wine. I promise that the 08 reds and our 09 white wine will keep you coming back for more. However, as any farmer will tell you, each year, each harvest we are under the influence of Mother Nature. In 2008 Mother Nature provided us with a wonderful harvest, the saddening part is that we just don’t have very much of the wine to go around. We’ll save those details for when we begin to release the wines later this year and next. Right now, the wine team is proud to have put our best wine in bottle.
On the subject of Mother Nature, let’s talk briefly about the pending 2010 harvest. Late winter 2009 and early 2010 has provided us with a regeneration of rain. Earlier this year we surpassed the Napa Valley average of rainfall (a number that we hadn’t come close to reaching since October 2006). The long, cool winter rolled into a late, wet Spring and delayed vine growth a few weeks. Bloom at Larkmead took place the first week of June; historically it would have happened in the middle of May. The next major vineyard event will be verasion that happens on average, at Larkmead, 75 days after bloom. Historically that would land us in the last week of July / first week of August but this year we are closer to the middle of August. We are not trying to rush the moderate weather as it is reminiscent to some of our favorite vintages – 2006, 2005, 2001. We’ll keep you posted as we get into the dog days of August and if you are planning any last minute travel to Northern California, please don’t hesitate to drop us a line and stop on by.
Dan Petroski, Associate Winemaker
It has been busy the previous five weeks in the cellar. Starting April 14 we racked and blended our 2009 Estate Cabernet and on April 19 racked and blended the 2009 Firebelle. Following that, we laid our '08 Firebelle and Cabernet down for bottle racking and on May 19, 20 and 21st we bottled the 2008 vintage Firebelle and Cabernet.
The preliminary 2009 Cabernet is quite distinctive with only 80% of the wine comprised of Cabernet. The remaining wine is split between Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. This is only a preliminary blend at the first racking, but it is a wine that we feel, like its sought after siblings, Salon and Solari, truly is an expression of Larkmead’s unique parcel of land in Northern Napa Valley. Larkmead Vineyards' distinction lies in its inherent richness in the front of the palate while maintaining freshness at the back; a sought after balance in all wines. In this particular blend of the 2009 Estate; we are impressed with the wine’s lift on the nose and broad mouth filling appeal that finishes with a gravelly tannin structure that makes you sit up and appreciate what Cabernet is capable of.
We find that blending wines allows for greater depth and nuance in the finished product. Especially when you are dealing with a vineyard that has three distinct soil types, a varied selection of rootstock combinations for each soil type and 12 Cabernet and five Merlot clones. That being said; in this blend of '09 Cabernet; you’ll find five Cabernet clones from nine parcels of Larkmead’s vineyard. The Petit Verdot is from two parcels of the vineyard and the Cabernet Franc is from another. Twelve lots created this one wine. To maintain the diversity during the wine’s elevage we used five different cooperages for our barrel program. Five of the cooperages provided the “new” French oak component and the same five cooperages provided a “once used” influence on the wine (these once used barrels were prior used with the 2007 wines).
The 2009 Firebelle is one of our most serious efforts in the wine’s short history. Due to its Merlot focused composition, Firebelle is logisitically formed in our heads before any of the other wines. Merlot is also the first red fruit we harvest each year; thus it is one of the first to finish fermentation, be barreled down, finish maloactic fermentation and typically be ready to show itself in the early Winter months. The rich, creamy Merlot tends to be seductive on the nose and in the palate. In a supporting role, Cabernet Sauvignon will give the Merlot a grandstand to continue to present itself; from there the final components of the blend are based on the best available secondary varieites form the vintage. In this parituclar year, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc all take the stage in the preliminary blend. In the 2009 wine there is a bright nose of red and blue fruit, hinting at black, almost saying, I am not your typical Firebelle. From there the wine hides behind a deep, dense, dark cloak of brambling forest floor scents and flavors. The wine is quite intriguing for its seriousness than its youthful flamboyance. This backwardness excites us about the wine's future development because Firebelle can be a gauge on how the remaining wines in the vintage will show themselves. The total composition of the 2009 Firebelle is a blend of 53% Merlot, 29% Cabernet, 10% Petit Verdot, 5% Malbec and 3% Cabernet Franc.
On March 29 we tasted through the 2009 wines again and found the wines to be of similar stature from when we tasted back in January. The cool summer in 2009 produced long wines with subtle elegance. These are wines that show the vineyard’s character quite predominantly in each and every sniff and sip. During the March tasting we sampled trial blends and set the schedule for wine work. Starting from the top down, we are quite pleased with the quality and quantity of production of our reserve Cabernet, Solari. The wine will be made up of 100% Cabernet from four parcels on the vineyard. Our gravel dominate soils on the Highway 29 side of Larkmead’s estate carry the majority of the blend and offer penetrating aromas, breadth of mouth feel and full, ripe tannins. Classic Larkmead cassis, graphite and minerality are present here and are supported by the structured balance and brambly nuances of the Cabernet from our darker, richer soils on the Eastern side of Napa River.
We’ve also put together the core of our Bordeaux blend, LMV Salon. Historically this wine has been a blend of all five Bordeaux grape varieties planted on the Estate – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. With our initial blend the wine maintains quite a palate with only four of the varieties included this year. We’ve left out Petit Verdot from this year’s initial blend. Right now the blend consists of 63% Cabernet, 16% Cabernet Franc, 16% Malbec and 5% Merlot. Think about the Solari above and add in some bay leaf and woodland aromas of the Cabernet Franc. Mix a bit of blackberry liqueur from the Malbec and creamy, ripe, black-skinned plums from the Merlot and you’ll have a hedonistic view of this vintage’s Salon.
Year in and year out we have had the good fortune of working with some amazing natural resources here at Larkmead. And today we continue our praise of the elevated levels of care and meticulous farming that is really allowing the Larkmead wines to sing these past few vintages.
We’re in the midst of racking and blending our 2009 Estate Cabernet (the week of April 12) and similarly the Firebelle (the week of April 19). I’ll post an update when we complete those wines and they begin their next stage of development in barrel.
It is early February 2010 and Napa Valley is already picture perfect with mustard cover crops creeping up between the vines. In the vineyards we are pre-pruning and in the winery we are taking stock of our inventory. This past year we touched three vintages at Larkmead. We bottled the highly anticipated 2007 vintage; we blended the 2008 wines and harvested the 2009 vintage.
In about two weeks time we will “officially” release the 2007 red wine vintage for Larkmead. A great many good things have been said about the 2007 vintage coming out of California. To echo the sentiments, 2007 is the vintage of opulence. It seems I shouldn’t be talking about hedonism during times like these, but it is hard to hold your tongue around these wines. Juicy. Lush. Mouth-watering. Rich. Savory. Tender. Flat out exquisite wines. It is going to be hard to match the extravagance of this vintage. We are all in for a grand treat in the weeks and months to come when these wines arrive on retail shelves, restaurant wine lists or in our wine cellars. I am not going to be afraid of opening these wines upon release. I speak for the Larkmead wines, they will be approachable. Go for it.
Just a few short weeks ago, Andy and I tasted through the 2008 and 2009 wines.
Since January 2009 we have not been more pleased with the overall development of the red wines from the 2008 harvest. It was an interesting vintage in the cellar that perplexed us at times and we truly didn’t know where the wines would go post-fermentation. When we tasted the wines in January 2009 we were quite pleased at how they began to pull together and cloak themselves in characteristic Larkmead cassis and fruit purity. A year later, dark red, black and blue fruit nuances began to add depth to the wines and the tannins and acid held a firm structure on the finish. The 2008 wines are stunning, classic wines and we plan to bottle the Firebelle and Cabernet in mid-May and the Salon and Solari in early July. Look out.
I have written before about the 2009 harvest, its intensity and concentration - mostly in the workload (see the prior posts below), but now is time to talk about the early development of the wines. Well, it is hard not to lead without the same descriptors – intensity and concentration. However, unlike the luxurious concentration of the 2007 wines, the young 2009 vintage is showing much more depth which I’d attribute to a focused intensity. The wines are superbly balanced with an elegant front of the palate fruit purity followed by a rich and clean mid-palate and some of the finest tannins I’ve tasted in a Larkmead wine. Since the early stages of fermentations I have talked repeatedly about the mouth-watering, flavorful tannins of the 2009 wines. In my opinion the 2009 vintage will be a candidate for the finest set of wines produced at Larkmead. I’ll check back in a couple of weeks when we rack and produce the preliminary 2009 blends. Until then, cheers.
As I write this we are preparing to put the last of our young, 2009, red wine to barrel.
When we finished harvesting SB, the calendars were turning to early September and we were turning our attention to the development of the red grapes on the vine. The weather was consistent in early September with the entire growing season – warm and dry. Red grape maturity was in balance - sugar, acid and tannin in grape clusters were slowly plodding along. At this stage of September we were quite excited with the prospect of an elegant vintage with low alcohol levels. A long, cool and dry growing season would also give us the luxury of setting our schedule quite effortlessly so we would be able to focus and manage a handful of fermentations at once while maintaining the parcel by parcel individuality that has been designated in our vineyard.
However, as they say, the best laid plans… are wretchedly destroyed by Mother Nature’s wand. That is not exactly how the story goes, but on September 17th the story of Harvest 2009 commenced. Temperature rose to 99 degrees Fahrenheit and the heat orchestra played on. The following days topped 102, 90, 97, 100, 102, 100, 91, 100, 104 and 104 again.
In 2008 we had a similar heat wave, but that took place about a month prior in the middle of August, thus propelling an early start to red grape harvesting and an early finish. Delayed for a couple of weeks with the early, balanced ripening it didn’t take long for the sugars in 2009 to stand up and say, look at me. As we waited as long as we could during the early stages of the heat wave, vineyard parcel by parcel came ready to pick and we began harvesting Cabernet on September 22nd. That was the start of twenty days of which we harvested 110 tons of red wine grapes from 21 distinct parcels from our vineyard (there were a couple of days where we picked multiple parcels). The prior year, 2008, we actually harvested 10% less red wine grapes over a period of 40 days. So, low and behold, harvest 2009 can aptly be deemed a ‘crush’ at Larkmead.
The good news is that we survived unscathed and we truly believe that the vintage has given us some superb wines. The young Larkmead wines have the elegance and finesse of the 2005 vintage and the tannin structure of the 2006, which in my opinion makes for a masterful combination. Below please find some interesting facts and figures, I hope you enjoy.
• August 24, 2009 – First harvest of Sauvignon Blanc
• September 22, 2009 – First harvest of red wine grapes
• October 11, 2009 – Last harvest of red wine grapes
• Larkmead’s 2009 red grape harvesting happened within a span of 20 days
• All Larkmead’s red wine grapes were in fermenters at the same time
• In 2008 all Larkmead’s red grape harvesting happened in a span of 40 days
• In 2009 we will have pressed off all our red grapes in the span of 35 days
• The longest red grape fermentation/maceration: 30 days
• The shortest fermentation/maceration: 17 days
• Lowest Brix: 17.9 (a portion of the Tocai)
• Highest Brix: 27.7 (Cabernet Franc)
• Red Brix average: 26
On Monday, August 24th we picked our first grapes of the 2009 harvest. The late winter rains and the cool growing season had delayed the start of harvest seven to ten days versus the prior year. So, with the fourth week of August a foot, we began picking Sauvignon Blanc and by Friday the 28th ended with it as well.
There are ten acres of Sauvignon Blanc planted on Larkmead’s estate. Ten acres falls in third place behind Cabernet (67 acres) and Merlot (22 acres); however, the vines are more vigorous and hold a greater tons per acre ratio than its sister varieties on the property. So, with the total production of the vineyard catering 66% to Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc tends to fall into second place, producing about 20% of the vineyard’s output. However, Larkmead doesn’t produce wine from all its Sauvignon Blanc. Being a grower and a vintner, we sell the majority of our Sauvignon Blanc grapes to other wineries, such as Duckhorn and Spottswoode.
It is too early to stake a foot in the soil and claim that this will be a spectacular vintage for Napa Valley wines, but based on the development of the Sauvignon Blanc - the rich, deep, nuanced flavors and the healthy fermentations that we are managing at the moment, I am going to have to say, we are in for a very good year of wine growing.
Stayed tuned as we’ll be picking our century old Tocai vines in the next seven to ten days (the week of September 14). And from there, the red wine grapes (starting with Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet) are not far behind….