If Michelle Shafrir had a motto for 2023, it would have to be “Hurry up and wait.”
In a year that started out wet and cold and stayed that way, off and on, through the normally mild days of spring, Mother Nature’s chilly mood has turned out to be a bellwether of the delayed ’23 grape harvest.
From our head winemaker’s point of view, that’s potentially a very good thing.
“It’s been relatively cool all summer,” she said recently. “And then with everything being delayed at this point—delayed veraison for example—the vineyards are still looking good. We have such big canopies: big leaves with lots of photosynthesis potential there. The soils have a lot of retained moisture for the vines to draw on. So everything looks very healthy.”
She ticked off examples of the atypical 2023 growing season. The year’s overall cooler conditions have caused calendar markers like budbreak, bloom and veraison to happen two to three weeks later than they would in an average year.
Michelle consulted her records from the ’22 harvest and noted that grapes started getting picked in the last two weeks of August—basically, a normal schedule for the first harvested fruit, sauvignon blanc.
“I think we’re looking at just about everything being late,” she said. “With the sauvignon blanc, unless we have a lot of heat accumulating over the next month, I can’t see things coming in early. So, we have to be patient, because it’s just going to take longer this year on the vine. It’s the same thing in Santa Lucia Highlands: I talked to our pinot noir grower, Adam Franscioni. He said we’re looking at something like a mid-to-late-October potential pick date.”
She explained that, for pinot noir, some delayed ripening is beneficial in the development of complex flavors; when it occurs too quickly, the result can be a very fruit-forward wine. “With our pinot, we’re looking for more nuance. We want the fruit, but we also want those spicy notes and the earthy character to come through. So having the time for all of those different flavors to develop is very important.”
Michelle had a similar thought on chardonnay, especially as it pertained to the huge amount of rainfall Napa Valley and the Bay Area received in 2023. “I was just talking to Chris Hyde earlier, and it’s the same thing with Hyde Vineyard. It looks like we’re going to have good yields this year, versus what we’ve had the past couple of years. All of that water, all that rain that we got this past winter, has really reinvigorated the vineyard so that the vines have a reservoir of water to draw from throughout their growth cycle.”
“Everything is looking even through the vineyard,” she observed of the Hydes’ Carneros property, a key piece of the Miner Family Chardonnay program.
Weather-related delays aside, preparations for the impending crush have continued at a brisk pace. This is where our Cellar Master Wes Raineri and his team enter the picture.
Having seen twenty-five harvests at Miner, Wes can appreciate the importance of where the grapes come from and their condition upon arrival at the crush pad. Overseeing how the fruit then gets to barrel and bottle is his area of expertise.
He took a few minutes out of a busy day to fill us in on the current cellar activities, but first had to give instructions to a driver delivering a twenty-yard pomace bin. The container wouldn’t get used (to collect the dried remains of pressed grapes, or pomace) for another couple of weeks after the onset of crush—more of Michelle’s “hurry up and wait.”
Wes started off with a comparison of this year to last, telling us that the driver had just dropped another bin at a Carneros winery where, in 2022, he’d made the same delivery a full month earlier. “I don’t recall ever getting our first fruit so late,” he said. “Even our sauvignon blanc, we might not get it the first week of September. It might be the second week.”
He added that, in terms of preparations, the late summer days at Miner were otherwise business as usual. “We’re just trying to finish up every aspect of non-harvest related wine work we can, so we can have all hands on deck getting everything ready for the first grapes.”
“We’re still waiting to pick,” Michelle reminded us, her anticipation of this delayed harvest only heightened by what she’s been observing out in the vineyards, and in conversations with Miner’s growers. “It’s a later vintage than the previous two years, but in a very good way. If the weather cooperates, we have the potential here for an absolutely epic vintage. We’re talking moderate yields and loose clusters with smaller berries. And if grapes are able to reach their target ripeness, the wines should have great color and should be intensely flavored. So we’re just keeping our fingers crossed that we have this steady, warm weather—85 or 90 degrees—and it’ll be perfect.”
In the meantime, Wes and his cellar crew are, along with Michelle, embracing the concept of patience. “We just do one thing at a time, trying to make this place more efficient and make better quality wine,” he said. “And now we’re pretty much ready to go. It’s just a waiting game.”
A quick harvest update:
The grapes are in! (the very first of them, anyway…)
On the morning of the second Friday in September, the ’23 harvest and crush at Miner Family officially began with the delivery of fifteen tons of sauvignon blanc from Shartsis Vineyard, a small property off of Whitehall Lane in the northwest corner of Rutherford. Michelle earlier had told us that this longtime source of grapes is usually the very first vineyard to get picked for us every year, and this year is no exception—despite all of the other surprises 2023 has offered.
Next up: a similar quantity of sauvignon blanc from Sage Creek Vineyard in Chiles Valley, and then… Michelle asks us to stay tuned!