Yes, Harvest season is in full swing at Martin Estate and as Frederic observes the small bins of grapes being walked into the cellar every morning, he gets more and more excited about the quality of his 2010 vintage.
“I’m truly thrilled with the actions we took this season,” Frederic says.
This is great news for a Napa Valley growing season that proposed challenges for some vineyards. What did Martin Estate do differently to take its 2010 vintage to the next level?
In January, Frederic made the decision to prune his vines ahead of the normal schedule to encourage an earlier budbreak, flowering and veraison. While early pruning risks exposure to frost, as Frederic says, “we have all the state-of-the-art tools here at Martin Estate – a wind machine that acts like a custom overhead heat fan and extensive sprinkler systems – to protect our vines from low temperatures.”
Two other key decisions took place during the growing season. First, because the 2010 season experienced abundant rain until almost June, Frederic allowed the natural grasses growing between the rows to flourish. These grasses soaked up extra moisture in the soils, which ensured the grapes still struggled early in the season to find deeper, natural water sources.
And, when the early summer in the Napa Valley remained wet and cool, ripening and veraison occurred slowly – but was right on target at Martin Estate due to this pro-active approach. Some vintners decided to open their leaf canopies early to allow extra sunshine to speed their veraisons. Frederic, however, was content with the long, slow and even ripening process and his second key decision was to allow the Martin Estate vine leaves to remain thick and heavy. When several heat waves struck the Napa Valley late in the season, Martin Estate’s plump, healthy grape bunches remained protected from sunburn by the cool shade of their canopies. “I knew you could always remove the leaves,” Frederic says, “but once removed, you wouldn’t be able to put them back on.”
As with every Martin Estate vintage, Frederic worked with vineyard manager Josh Clark to green harvest the vineyard just as veraison, the period where the sugars really develop and the grapes go from green to purple, occurred. This ensured that the grapes were perfectly, uniformly ripe. Frederic and the vineyard crew have started arriving before daybreak and are hand-picking every block into small 30-pound bins, which are carried into the winery for hand-sorting.
Now, as a mild, 70 to 80-degree semi-Indian Summer sets in on the valley, Frederic sighs with delight. Soon all the grapes will be fermenting in individual lots in French oak casks, small, brand new French oak barrels and custom-designed concrete tanks. Then each lot, which is fermented separately, will go into 100% French oak barrels, where the wines will refine and age for up to two years before bottling. Frederic will continue to hover over every barrel, sampling each lot throughout the year to monitor the wines’ progress. But with such great fruit, he anticipates nothing short of a stellar vintage for 2010.