2020 Harvest Report

8/31/2020 11:52:10 PM

2020 Harvest Report | By Christian Palmaz

As of the first day of harvest Aug 31, 2020

Pandemics, wild fires, hurricanes, murder hornets and other global scale events have us all counting down to New Year’s.  The year 2020 will live in infamy for many reason but not likely for the vintage of this estate.

Harvest began early this vintage, starting with Chardonnay block K coming in on August 31.  In 2019 (a decidedly late vintage), the same parcel came in on September 17th.  The heat wave the Bay Area, experienced mid August, helped accelerate ripening, however it’s not the only reason for an early vintage.

A dry pattern emerged early in 2020 with slightly above average temperatures sustained throughout the summer.  However good night time recovery and a less aggressive leafing program protected the fruit from any significant shrivel or sun damage.  It was reasonably clear all along this would be an early harvest.

In fitting 2020 spirit, a record breaking freak lightening storm brought thousands of ground lightning strikes mid August.  Although the valley survived the record heat wave thanks to high humidity (which helps the vines deal with the heat), hundreds of fires broke out across California, some unfortunately in Napa.  A large complex of fires surrounding Lake Berryessa eventually combined to form the third largest fire in California history totaling over 375,000 acres.

With resources spread very thin, fire fighters did their best to protect structures but hundreds were unfortunately lost.  Compared to the 2017 fires, this fire was fortunately not “as” wind driven, allowing more time for evacuations.

With prevailing winds mostly from the SW, direct smoke remained clear of the property.  Since 2017, we have implemented particle counting devices in the vineyards so we can track accumulated smoke effect in addition to our normal lab tests on the grapes themselves.

Fortunately, I’m pleased to report that so far no smoke damage has affected the estate’s grapes.  With at least this fire behind us, I’ll dare to say it’s likely we will get the grapes all in fermentation this year and likely enjoy an intense and concentrated fruit year — perhaps similar to 2008.  I am encouraged and optimistic.


During the first weeks of September a wind shift brought us significant smoke from fires burning far to the Northwest.  Fortunately, despite some heavy smoke days and moments of falling ash, lab results continue to show no smoke taint effect on the grapes.  We did however blow the grapes off prior to harvest using modified leaf blowers.

The ultimate validation came a few days into fermentation with Tina affirming no smoke taint characteristic detected and a wonderful concentration.  By the 3rd week of September, the air is clearing to blue skies and harvest is settling into a predictable pace as we near the 50% mark.

It’s still too soon to tell (for 2020 standards), but assuming no more “excitement” it appears that this vintage will pick out about 15-20% lighter but have wonderful concentration with bright acidity.


It’s incredible that just 4 days after the last harvest update, on September 27th, one of the most devastating fires to hit North Napa started just North of St Helena.  It grew to over 67,000 acres tearing West across the Valley and into Sonoma in nearly 48 hours.  With resources overwhelmed, sadly we lost 630 residences and 400 commercial properties, including 31 wineries, restaurants, and lodges.  The list of lost properties is staggering, many of which were close family friends.  Our hearts along with the entire worldwide wine community go out to those affected.  We immensely appreciate the first responders who risked everything to save so much and ultimately prevailed to control the fire.  As of today, the fire is thankfully reported at 70% contained with favorable conditions forecasted.

The gravity of the above map showing nearly half of Napa Valley being affected by fire in a single year is nothing short of incredible.  Never has it been more clear that we as a community, County and State need to make changes in many respects in order to thwart the intensity of these fires.  This is a topic for another post but I can say that, already, the Napa Ag community is coming together in a big way to help ensure that Napa Valley will not be defined by this phenomenon.

Remarkably, despite the Glass fire, producing a second round of intense smoke for much of the valley and triggering high particle counts on all 3 of our METAR locations, smoke taint remained UNDETECTABLE in the fruit.  Over a dozen samples were sent to the lab along with Tina conducting daily sensory analysis on the fruit.  It’s clear that we have still much to learn about smoke and its affects on wine grapes.

Coming from the 2017 vintage where we decided not to harvest any post fire fruit because of smoke taint, now in 2020 with even more days of smoke we are not seeing the effects.  Clearly distance and wind patterns are playing a roll here.  UC Davis researchers are working diligently to better understand the effects from the 2020 fires and the damage caused to nearby vineyards.  Fortunately, regardless of the reason, we remarkably escaped unscathed.

In fact, now with all of the wine in tank, not only are we pleased to find smoke not a factor in the vintage, Tina and Mia are glowing with excitement from the intensity, concentration, and aromatic development of the wines.  The later season heat spikes did create some shrivel in the fruit from prone areas but thanks to our state-of-the-art optical sorter we were able to remove those berries.

Overall, the year 2020 may be one we are ready to forget, but the 2020 vintage, reminds us how adversity, challenge, and perhaps good fortune can create something we are truly humbled, excited, and mostly grateful to share.

On behalf of the entire Palmaz Family and team, we raise our glasses to you all!  Here’s to 2020!