It‘s hot hot hot – just right for August.  Unfortunately, some of the HOT is due to the concern about recent fires nearby.  On July 22, the Wragg fire, believed to have started by a car accident, quickly began sending up dark grey plumes one valley east of us, near Lake Berryessa, destroying over 8,000 acres.  Then the Rocky fire began on July 29 in Lake County about 70 miles north of us; it is now largely contained after burning almost 70,000 acres.  And yesterday afternoon, Anthony and I noticed an ominous grey-white cloud forming far above the ridge-line of Mount St. Helena.  This new fire, now dubbed the Jerusalem fire, started several miles away from the Rocky fire and has already burned over 5,000 acres as of this morning.  Those same breezes off the Pacific that fan our afternoons feed these fast moving flames.  Following the wind, smoke has largely dissipated north and east; vineyards and grapes in Napa haven’t been affected, thank goodness.

Here at the winery, our Chardonnay is beginning to taste riper; the skins are softening and sugar is rising daily.  Last week, the Sauvignon Blanc up in Lake County measured 19 brix already.  Today, our French intern, Justine Henriet, from the province of Franche-Comte’ on the Swiss border, is up at Canterbury Vineyard in the Sierra Foothills.  Gathering and evaluating grape samples, she’ll be in charge of overseeing vineyard development going into harvest, quite a responsibility.  But having spent time at vineyards in Burgundy, Bordeaux and Rhone regions, we think she’ll have enough experience to read the fruit and keep us on track.

Our second intern, Claudia Marchesini has arrived from Verona, Italy.  She’ll be more focused on the cellar duties and will follow the fruit all the way from the crush pad to its first racking in December.  Both Justine and she will be working long hours, dealing with heavy hoses, 90lb barrels and tanks full of grapes to be shoveled.  Harvest will have many lessons for them, undoubtedly, and we’ll be interested in how they perceive the vintage as in unfolds in coming months.

For the time being, we’re seeing wide variety in the outcome of the growing season.  Shatter, the result of conditions during flowering that prevents the flower from completing fertilization, has caused a loss of about 20% of our Chardonnay.  But the Merlot, immediately adjacent in the vineyard, is in beautiful shape.  Lovely clusters, exceptionally uniform in size, well-shaped and loose, are almost through veraison.  The cold, damp part of our odd spring really struck every vineyard differently, depending on what stage of blossoming the plant was in.  And now we see the effects.

Anthony and I were in Texas working last week, where it was Texas hot, a whole level above Napa hot – 100 to 107 daily.  Austin and San Antonio were our targets for this trip.  Austin has a wonderful assortment of very cool restaurants, and San Antonio has Bohannon’s, a steakhouse that has carried our wine for over ten years.  It was a great trip, with Austin’s King Liquors, Cedar Valley Wine, Davenport Wines and Urban Wine all bringing in our wines for the Fall season!

Trips to visit the markets we love are fun, but I must confess, the trip we’re really looking forward to is the Rhone River cruise through Provence next spring.  I’m thrilled to say a number of reservations by Bell aficionados have already been made – it should be a great good time.  If you care to join us, we’d be delighted to add you to the floating party!  Could we take over the entire boat?  I’d sure like to!