The Napa Valley experienced a relatively mild winter with abundant rain, which led us into an early budbreak for the 1996 growing season. Untimely rains during bloom, coupled with cool spring weather during the 1995 season, reduced 1996 crop levels significantly.
Warm, dry weather post-bloom set the vines in motion and shortened the period between fruit establishment and veraison, leading us to believe that harvest was going to be early. However, we saw some temperature spikes above 100 degrees in July and August, which tended to shut down vines and stall the development process. Reduced crop load on the vines shifted the canopy-to-crop ratio in favor of canopy, which some speculate was a saving grace. Why? High temperatures in August scorched some of the leaves and left those remaining to act as umbrellas for the clusters. So, in a year such as this, a few extra leaves were beneficial in protecting clusters and providing adequate surface area to meet the demands of the developing and ripening grapes.
The Cabernet harvest at Spottswoode began on September 11th with one block of young vines behind Mary’s house. As each piece of the vineyard gradually ripened, the grapes were harvested and crushed into fermenting vessels. The last of the Cabernet was harvested September 30th, fifty-three days after the first of the Sauvignon Blanc was picked, making this an unusually long harvest.
—Pam Starr, Winemaker