In late August 2020, disaster struck the Napa Valley when a fire, named the LNU Lightning Complex, began ravaging its eastern Vaca mountain range. 

After two weeks and hundreds of thousands of scorched acres, the last flame was extinguished in the first days of October. The worst affected area was Howell Mountain, with many producers, including Pilcrow, making the tough decision to forgo the production of their Cabernet.

Neighboring appellations of Calistoga and St. Helena were also hit hard with smoke, but legendary producers such as Eisele (Calistoga) and Spottswoode (St. Helena) still prevailed.

Farther down valley, winemakers were breathing a collective sigh of relief. For many of them, a great harvest was still within reach, since location and northeasterly winds had spared most of their vineyards from smoke.  

But a second disaster hit in the early hours of September 27th between St. Helena and Howell Mountain. Called the Glass Fire, it burned and spread for nearly a month, even jumping across the valley and into Napa’s western-flanking mountain range. 

It proved catastrophic for Napa Valley Cabernet winegrowing. And when it was all over, smoke taint dominated many vineyards. Production was down at least 40%, and much of what was made was eventually sold off in bulk. 

Yet, in the midst of such destruction, there were a few lucky producers who enjoyed fantastic harvests of perfect fruit. Not coincidentally, some were Old School producers like Corison and Pilcrow, who often harvest earlier than others and brought their fruit in before the Glass Fire started on September 27th. For two of Pilcrow’s vineyards, it was a full two weeks before. 

Pilcrow’s Jonah and Sara Beer made two wines that year: one from the Ghost Block Vineyard in the heart of Yountville, and the other high up in Mount Veeder’s Archer & Byrd Vineyard, in Napa’s western mountain range. Their locations are noted by the blue circles in the map above.

The Beers were not so lucky with their lone Howell Mountain vineyard, Granite Lake, which succumbed to smoke from the early LNU fire, and the entire crop had to be discarded.  

Overall, several producers across Napa County—both its western and eastern mountain ranges and throughout the valley floor—produced fantastic, taint-free Cabernets with beautiful elegance. To name a few: Pride, Harlan, Promontory, Keenan, Mayacamas, Dalla Valle, VHR, Eisele, Corison, Spottswoode, and of course, Pilcrow’s two classically made Cabernets. 

To quote Jonah Beer: “In the end, I couldn’t be more pleased with the two wines that we were blessed to make. I hope customers look past the 24-hour news cycle of the 2020 vintage and see Pilcrow—and many, many more—with the clarity of the big picture.”

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