Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 36

Ra i n,
H e at
&
Fire
Napa Valley's 2017 Cabernets Forged Elegance from Extremes
by JARED HOOPER

B

ack in mid-September this year, Bobby
Moy invited me and a few friends to
help him pick an acre of cabernet sauvignon in Calistoga, the northernmost
reach of Napa Valley. For Moy, a former
sommelier who started Chiron Wines in
2015, it was a handshake deal. He was
offered the fruit for free, in exchange for
a finished case of wine. The vineyard was in limbo, due
to the smoke in the air that season and the possibility of
smoke taint in the grapes.
Moy ran the numbers on the costs of bringing in the
grapes and renting space in a custom-crush facility to produce the wine. If the fruit turned out to be tainted with
smoke, he might be able to sell it for a few cents on the
dollar in the bulk wine market. If the fruit was good, and
Moy believed it was, he estimated he could have up to
two tons of quality cabernet sauvignon grapes-fruit that
would normally sell for $9,000 a ton. Without making the
wine and waiting a month for a test, there was no way to
know if the grapes were healthy or not. Moy decided to
take the risk.
It was a relatively easy pick: The vines were trained to a
high trellis, so there wasn't a lot of bending over, and the
temperature hovered at a breezy 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Moy trained the team, showing us how he selected and
cradled clusters with his non-beer-holding hand. Then
we set about eyeing, clipping and dropping our chosen
bunches into small yellow bins, transferring them to the
half-ton bins on the trailer behind his truck. Later, we

36

WINE & SPIRITS

DECEMBER 2020

hauled them to the winery to be destemmed and transferred to maceration vats to soak for a few days before
fermentation. We stood around the bins in the cool dimness of the winery, reaching in to sample some of the
grapes we'd harvested. We hadn't selected the two tons
Moy anticipated, but just under three-quarters of a ton
at weigh in. Beautiful fruit, we all agreed.
The future of that wine was, and still is, unknown. "We
just can't tell," Moy explained. "Smoke taint is sneaky; it
hides in the sugars."
Less than one week later, the Glass Fire erupted north
of St. Helena, on the eastern slope of Napa Valley. Moy
and half of his picking crew were among the 70,000 people
subject to mandatory evacuation during the worst wildfire
in Napa Valley's recorded history. It was a week before
Moy and his family were able to return home and check
in on the wine.
Of the last four harvests in Napa Valley, only 2018 has
been free from a major fire threat. While it's too early to
know the outcome of the 2020 harvest for those who were
able to make wine, this season brings the release of the
lion's share of Napa Valley cabernets from 2017, the first
of the recent "fire vintages." We've found some beautiful
'17s in our tastings for this issue, and they made us curious
to talk with the farmers and winemakers who made them.
Reporting during the recent 2020 fires, I spoke with
growers about what made their 2017 vintage a success,
and what we might expect from their 2020s. As it turns
out, their farming decisions have been driven as much by
the heat as by the fires.



Wine & Spirits - December 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Wine & Spirits - December 2020

Contents
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - Cover1
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - Cover2
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 1
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 2
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - Contents
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 4
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 5
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 6
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 7
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 8
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Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - Cover3
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - Cover4
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