The 2015 winegrape harvest was off to an early start this year - 3 weeks earlier than normal - and it officially wraps up this week, according to the Napa Valley Grapegrowers.

The USDA also reported harvest progress as of last Sunday as follows:

For corn, the USDA reports that as of last Sunday, 27% of corn acreage has been harvested vs. 18% last week. This is above the 16% harvested at this time a year ago, but below the 5-year average of 32%. For soybeans, 42% of acreage has been harvested vs. 21% last week. This above the 19% harvested at this time a year ago, and above the 5-year average of 32%.

Early Bud-Break and Bloom

While grapegrowers had to contend with an early bud-break and bloom, a fourth consecutive year of drought, and lower yields than the past three years, all reports from the vineyard indicate that the quality of the fruit is exceptional. The 2014 Napa Valley winegrape crop was valued at $706 million, an all-time record high, and prices for Cabernet Sauvignon were up 8% over 2013.

Each growing year presents unique challenges and 2015 was no exception. "Warm and dry conditions throughout the year led to early berry development and then warm to hot temperatures in August/September kicked the early harvest into full throttle.

Some of our blocks came in three or four weeks ahead of normal," said Remi Cohen, NVG Board member and Vice President and General Manager, Lede Family Wines. "The quality looks good overall, with ripe flavors, good concentration, and lots of freshness due to high acidity in the grapes."

An early bud-break and erratic weather during bloom created some variability in fruit maturity and as a result, crop yields are lower than in past years. "Yields are down from the last 3 years, but those years were big crops. We're only off 15-20% normal" said PJ Alviso, NVG member and Director of Estate Viticulture for Duckhorn Wine Company."

2015 was also one of the warmest years on record. August and September brought periods of high heat with temperatures rising to 106 degrees. Growers worked around the clock to bring in the crop. The rapid picking schedules paid off. Cohen said, "I feel like our team worked at a good pace and I have been pleased with everything that has come in so far, both in flavors and chemistry.


  • Cool weather during bloom extended the period of flowering and fruit "set"
  • Bud-break occurred approximately 3 weeks early
  • This created variability in fruit maturity, which was watched carefully and addressed at veraison
  • Frost season overall was mild and fairly uneventful this year
  • Through September, Napa experienced 75% of normal rainfall for the water year (Oct'14-Sept'15), or 20.53 inches. Comparatively, in 2014 at this same point in time, the total precipitation was 19.38", or 1.15" less.
  • Biggest rain event was in December 2014 with 11.97 inches, which helped drought concerns and lessened irrigation needs
  • Data from the Oakville CIMIS station shows that Napa accumulated 2862 growing degree days from March 15 through September 3. That compares to 2586 degree days over the same period in 2014, 2596 in 2013, and 2271 in 2012. That's 26% more heat accumulation this year. 

Drought and Water Use

  • Ag reservoirs started the season 95% full in Napa County
  • 2014 findings of the Napa County Groundwater Resource Advisory Committee show that Napa's groundwater supply is relatively stable
  • The storms that delivered rain this year came at optimum times for storage and for saturating vineyards soils
  • Technology is being used in the vineyard to better monitor water availability: sap flow and surface renewal technology, pressure bombs, soil probes, and related innovations
  • For frost protection, growers are converting from sprinklers to wind machines and where possible, they integrate cold air drainage as an important feature of their frost protection plan. With over 80% of growers employing these practices, they can dramatically reduce water use on a vineyard from between 30-40%. 

El Nino

  • The NOAA ( National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) reported an approximate 95% chance that El Niño will continue through the Northern Hemisphere this winter and gradually weaken through spring 2016, bringing with it above-average rain and temperatures
  • Hot temperatures are expected to continue through October
  • Scientists have reported that rainfall from El Niño will not be enough to alleviate California's fourth year of drought or provide relief for the state's destructive fire season