Napa Valley

Harvest Begins for Schramsberg Vineyards

Crews harvested 10 tons of Pinot Noir from the Richburg Vineyard and 12 tons of Chardonnay grapes from the Sisters Vineyard early Tuesday as harvest 2019 began for Calistoga’s Schramsberg Vineyards.

Mid-morning on Tuesday, Emrys Davies, 15, and his brother Hughie, 10, were on the crushpad with their young cousins and their father, Schramsberg vintner Hugh Davies, for the winery’s annual celebration marking the beginning of the harvest. It’s a tradition that Schramsberg founders Jack and Jamie Davies, Hugh’s parents, first began in 1965, just weeks before Hugh was born.

When asked, young Hughie couldn’t remember anything about prior harvest parties, although his cousin, Matthew Nelson, said he remembers a lot of people celebrating. And Emrys added he remembers stomping on the grapes when he was little. He also remembers his grandmother, Jamie Davies, who died in February 2008.

Later, after Hugh Davies spoke in English and Spanish to the crowd of about 50 people, Hughie was on top of the Pinot Noir grapes and jumped up and down, with his blue shoes on, crushing the grapes, while Brandy, a Golden Retriever, watched.

“This harvest will be a little smaller than last year, because the yields are expected to be smaller,” Hugh Davies said, adding that 2018 was “a monster year.” The 2019 harvest, judging by the picks done early Tuesday, will be “definitely lighter than last year, but closer to normal,” he said. “We’re planning to make a little less wine than we did last year.”

In 2019, Schramsberg is planning to harvest some 1,800 tons and is targeting 90,000 cases or maybe 95,000 cases, Davies said. “We selling about that much, so we should be making a little more to build a library, if nothing else,” he added.

Sean Thompson, director of winemaking, said he is expecting fruit from 10 new vineyards this year, thanks to the efforts of viticulturist Sam Rubanowitz, and for the first time will be crushing Chardonnay grapes from Anderson Valley. He introduced five of the six interns for this year, including Jack Davies, Hugh’s nephew and son of Bill Davies, Georgia Dale, Brian Hurley, Gita Mallya and Nathan Sneller. Michael Barrett was not present.

Hugh Davies addressed the interns and other vineyard workers present: “Thanks again for the hard work you’re about to do,” adding he expects the harvesting of grapes to go on for 10 weeks.

He also thanked the workers present, many of whom have worked for Schramsberg Vineyards for more than 40 years.

Davies admitted the start of harvest was about the same as last year, adding that both years were late. “Aug. 20 is a little late. Typically, I would say it is Aug. 14, so maybe we’re a week behind what would be normal.” In 2011, the first grapes were picked the first week of September, which he called “an extremely late harvest,” and in 2015, the first grapes were picked at the end of July. “It was a very low crop and the fourth year of drought conditions. It was early,” he said.

The grapes are brought in half-ton plastic bins, which Davies said are gentle with the grapes. “For the most part, the berries are unbroken and the juice won’t come out of the skins until it is inside the press,” he said, adding, though, that it’s impossible to have no juice at the bottom of the bin. Looking at the press, Davies added that even though it’s bigger than ones used in the past, it is part of a gentle process.

“We extract the juice fairly slowly,” with the press that was put in use in 1999, and “the amount of solids we get in our free-run juice today is minimal. It’s pretty nice and there’s a very crisp, polished feel to that free-run juice that is an improvement over where we would have been all those years ago,” Davies added.

The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were picked at 20 Brix, which is higher than normal for winegrapes used for making sparkling wine, but Davies said last week’s heat spike raised the sugar in the grapes. “We’ll be picking more tomorrow from the Richburg Vineyard,” he said.

Part of the harvest celebration tradition includes a group of winery employees using sabers to open bottles of Schramsberg Querencia Brut Rose. On Tuesday, seven people took sabers to the bottles of 2015 wines: Hugh Davies, Sean Thompson, Sam Rubanowitz, Jessica Koga, associate winemaker, intern Jack Davies and two enologists, Shawn McIlvenna and Mara Ambrose.

After the bottles were opened, they were poured onto the picked Pinot Noir grapes, seeking good luck for the harvest.

And, so harvest 2019 begins. As the back of one of the workers’ T-shirts said, “Eat. Sleep. Crush. Repeat.”

By: David Stonberg, editor@sthelenastar.com

Rising Affordability in Purchasing Real Estate

BY: JANN SWANSON

Black Knight has good news for potential homebuyers, especially those in the market for their first home. The new edition of the company's Mortgage Monitor says the recent decline in mortgage interest rates has made home affordability the best it has been in 18 months.

With the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage hovering around 3.75 percent, it now takes 21.3 percent of the nation's median monthly income to make a mortgage payment on the median priced home. This is down from 23.3 percent in November of last year and more affordable than the long-term ratio of around 25 percent that was in-play during a time when the market was generally considered to be "normal," 1995 to 2003. It is also much lower than the 34.5 percent ratio at the height of the housing boom.

The rising payment-to-income ratio, as it hit its recent peak last November, appeared to trigger a strong reaction in both sales and home prices.  Given its relatively modest historical position, Black Knight suggests there may be heightened sensitivity to affordability concerns in today's market. Both existing and new home sales have been ragged since then and, although home prices continued to rise, that rate at which they did so slowed considerably.

The average home price has gone up by more than $12 thousand since interest rates peaked last November, but the monthly payment has declined by $108 for an average home purchased with a 20 percent down payment.  Black Knight says this is the equivalent of a 15 percent increase in buying power and means a homebuyer could pay $45,000 more for a home without seeing an increase in the monthly payment.

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Of course, with lower rates and higher affordability, demand is growing again.  The company notes that, the 15-month pattern of price deceleration it had been tracking seems to have leveled off. The annual home price appreciation rate held steady in June at 3.78 percent.

Black Knight cautions that it takes time for impacts for interest rate changes to show up in housing market numbers; even after homebuyers react, there is a time lag due to contract, offer, closing, and recording times.  Therefore, the flat appreciation rate from May to June could be just the beginning and the 3.75 interest rate that hit at the end of June may not show up in home sale and price changes until August or September.

There is a large spread of payment to income ratios across the states, but affordability is improving.  Where nine states were less affordable than their long-term norms back in November, only California and Hawaii remained so as of July.

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Housing is least affordable along the western U.S. and parts of the northeast, while the Midwest and parts of the South are home to some of the lowest payment-to-income ratios.  Not only is housing in the Midwest the most affordable, but it is also the furthest below its own long-term average, as income growth there has been more in line with home price growth than in other areas.

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Even in California, however, affordability has improved.  The state went from having one of the top five home price growth rates of any state (8.6 percent) one year ago to second-to-last as of June 2019, with home price growth slowing to just 1.3 percent year-over-year.  The payment ratio in the state is now 34 percent, down 4 percentage point from November. That is, however, 2.5 points above its long-term ratio.  Growth declines in several of the West Coast's largest markets has been significant up; prices in the last 12 months have increased by 1.1 percent or less in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Seattle. 

Price growth among condominiums have been experiencing greater slowing over the last 12 months than have prices of single-family homes. Up until then the two sets of prices had been rising in lockstep, but now condos are appreciating at 2.2 percent compared to single-family homes at 3.9 percent.  That is a 40 percent differential.  The company points out that condo prices are historically more volatile, they had a faster appreciation rate in the late 1990s and early 2000s, experienced a sharper downturn during the financial crisis and then recovered faster in 2012 to 2014.  Now the tide may be turning again.  The company said this could be due to a number of factors and it worth keeping an eye on.

Black Knight also provided an update on the prepayment rate which had been seeing some dramatic increases as rates declined. That, however, ended in June as activity fell by 7.5 percent.  It was the first monthly decline since January and the company calls it surprising "given that refinance incentive continues to rise, and home sale driven prepayments typically increase from May to June."


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 The declines were evident across servicing portfolios, investor classes, interest type and vintages but the strongest reductions were among portfolio held loans, high credit score mortgages and loans originated last year.  Those were the cohorts that had seen the largest increase in prepayments previous to June.  Black Knight says the pullback may be due to sluggish refi-driven prepayments in June rather than (or potentially in combination with) lackluster home sale driven prepays

New Tenants Moving Into Ben Franklin Building in St. Helena

Four local tenants are moving into the newly renovated building between Sunshine Foods and Wells Fargo Bank.

A fitness studio, real estate office, physical therapy office and an unannounced food concept will occupy four spaces in the former Ben Franklin building.

What's Happening in Napa Valley in August & Hotel Deals

If you are going to be in Napa Valley or are interested in staying even just for a night or so here are some highlights of Wine Tasting, Festivals, & More:

New Apartments in Napa

Rents at emerging 282-unit complex start at $2,384. These apartments are just north of another housing project, 49-unit Stoddard West apartments for low-income families sponsored by the Gasser Foundation. Read the full article here or below:

The leasing center for The Braydon, Napa’s new, amenity-rich apartment complex, opened just more than a week ago, and the first residents have already signed leases, moved in and are calling the complex west of Soscol Avenue’s Auto Row home.

Residents can choose from one-, two- or three-bedroom units from 752 to 1,311 square feet. Lease rates for one bedroom, one bath unit start at $2,384 per month, two bedroom leases start at $2,810, and the three bedroom leases start at $3,253.

According to Zumper, a rental website, the average market-rate rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Napa during May was $2,240.

About 20 of the 282 planned units are done, said Easther Liu, national vice president of marketing for Fairfield Residential.

Fairfield Residential is developing the 7.37-acre housing site, which uses a new mailing address of 791 Vista Tulocay Lane. It is located on the west side of Soscol Avenue, just north of Tulocay Creek, with views of the Napa River.

A website for The Braydon shows photos of the sample apartments and the complex, which will also include a co-working space, gated dog park, pool, courtyard with outdoor dining space and cabanas, fitness center and “social lounge with full kitchen and multiple seating nooks.”

Once completed, a total of nine buildings will contain the almost 300 apartment homes at The Braydon. A leasing center, located next to a roundabout at the middle of the complex, is now open and staffed.

Inside the complex, the size and scope of the project — one of Napa’s largest apartment developments — is apparent. Chain link fencing wraps around the extensive construction project, which stretches both north and south of the leasing center and the first completed apartment building. The square footage of the apartment housing totals 278,256 square feet.

Napa’s Gasser Foundation originally launched the development, which was formerly known as Vista Tulocay Apartments.

The Gasser Foundation agreed to sell the then-Vista Tulocay site to BLT Enterprises for $9 million in 2002, but the sale did not close until 2013 because of flood control and entitlement delays.

Fairfield Residential bought the project from BLT Enterprises in February 2017 for an estimated $34.25 million.

The apartments are just north of another housing project, the 49-unit Stoddard West apartments for low-income families sponsored by the Gasser Foundation.

Stoddard West previously announced rents will be in the $475-to-$1,300 per month range, depending on the tenants and the number of rooms in the apartment.

Stoddard West, a partnership between Gasser and Burbank Housing of Sonoma County, closed its application list after receiving more than 500 applicants.

Liu declined to provide the number of applications Fairfield has received for the Braydon units.

Home Prices Up 5.05% Across the Country

Some Highlights:

  • The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) recently released their latest Quarterly Home Price Index report.

  • In the report, home prices are compared both regionally and by state.

  • Based on the latest numbers, if you plan on relocating to another state, waiting to move may end up costing you more!

Home Prices Up.jpg


Gary's Wine & Marketplace coming to St. Helena

Wine retailer Gary Fisch signed a lease Monday to open Gary’s Wine & Marketplace at the former Dean & DeLuca space in south St. Helena.

Fisch envisions a store “in the image of what Dean & DeLuca was in its early days,” except with more wine in the mix.

“Same concept, different name,” Fisch said.

The store, opening as soon as early September, will be the fifth under the Gary’s Wine & Marketplace brand. The other four are in New Jersey, two owned by Fisch and two owned by his wife, Liz.

Fisch is frequently one of the top bidders at the Napa Valley Vintners’ annual Premiere Napa Valley, which he’s been attending for more than 20 years.

“Spending more time in Napa Valley has been a dream of mine forever,” Fisch said. “This opportunity is allowing me to do it without retiring.”

Like Dean & DeLuca in its heyday, the new store will offer coffee and breakfast items, salads and sandwiches for lunch, charcuterie, cheese, olive oil, fresh-based bread, and light catering.

Fisch said it will offer “significantly more wine” than Dean & DeLuca ever did, focused on Napa Valley wine but also stocking a “hand-selected group of non-Napa wines” from regions like Burgundy, Alsace and the Loire Valley.

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“When you walk in, you’ll know you’re in the best wine shop in the Napa Valley,” Fisch said.

He also wants to offer a “concierge service” where customers can taste wine and arrange to visit particular wineries.

He called Dean & DeLuca an “iconic brand,” and he was sad to see it decline. When he visited St. Helena in May, the store was a shadow of its former self.

It didn’t close until early July, but by late May Fisch had already reached an agreement in principle with the family of the late Leslie Rudd to take over the space. The Rudd family continues to own the property even after Rudd sold the Dean & DeLuca brand in 2014 to Pace Development, a luxury real estate development company based in Thailand.

Fisch hopes to open in early September, as soon as the liquor license is in effect. On Tuesday, workers were starting cosmetic improvements inside the building.

When Fisch first visited the Napa Valley in 1979 as a sales rep for a New Jersey wholesaler, his first stop was at Louis M. Martini Winery.

“Forty years later we’re opening a store literally across the street,” he said. “For me it’s super-exciting.”

Article from Napa Valley Register

Coming Soon! Beautiful Rental Off Silverado Trail

Beautiful covered, private deck with vineyard views on the east side of the valley. Ensuite 2 bedroom, 2 bath, unfurnished custom built home on a quiet, private estate. Walkable to CIA and a 5 minute drive to downtown St. Helena. Located in the desirable St. Helena School district. One story with hardwood floors, open kitchen concept with built-in gas range and oven, refrigerator, dishwasher, garbage disposal, large great room w/gas wood burning fireplace. Handicap accessible bathroom w/shower in Master suite, new carpet, central air A/C and heat, freshly painted inside and out. Drive right into attached garage w/electric garage door and walk right into your mud room with full washer/dryer. Owner/Manager on-site.

Available August 1, 2019. One Year lease: $4,500.00/month [not including gas, power and cable/internet], Includes: landscaping, water and garbage.

Click here for more information.

Festival Napa Valley Events This Week

Festival Napa Valley is committed to enriching the vitality of the community through innovative performances and inspiring education programs. Some things you should know about Festival Napa Valley

  • 1) They donate 6,000 tickets every year to seniors, veterans and families.

  • 2) 1,600 students attend Free Concert for Kids.

  • More than 200 artists from around the world perform every year at Festival Napa Valley.

  • 1,400 students attend Arts for All summer camps launched and funded by Festival Napa Valley

  • 95 College & Conservatory Musicians study and perform at Festival Napa Valley’s tuition-free summer music academy.

  • $1,000,000 is invested in Napa County public school arts education programs

For the events calendar click here.

What's New?! Listings! Up Valley Condominiums and Around Sylvaner Ave, St. Helena

Curious as to what Condominiums in Yountville, St. Helena or Calistoga are for sale?

Curious as to what Single Family Residencies are for sale in the Sylvaner Ave, St. Helena area?

I have created a public collections page for each! Just click the links below and send me a message if you or anyone you know is interested!

Up Valley Condominiums

Around Sylvaner Ave, St. Helena

Safety Tips and Napa Valley Events for the 4th of July

With the 4th of July fast approaching it is always good to revisit safety tips. In our area we are not allowed to have personal fireworks for fire safety reasons. An average of 18,500 fires are caused by fireworks each year, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Such fires cause an average of three deaths, 40 injuries and $43 million in direct property damage.

Here are some standard tips to keep you and your family (including pets) safe:

  1. If you are going to be outside in the sun be sure to pack lots of water and sunscreen. Wear hats and/or sit under an umbrella if possible.

  2. Do not bring your pets if possible.

    • Lights and noise may frighten pets. Animals may fair better if kept inside during the display. Playing music or turning on the television can help distract animals from fireworks noise.

    • The noise can cause your animal to either run or possibly bite someone or another animal because they are scared. Both Animal Control and the Humane Society see an increase in lost animals around this time of year. Have your pet microchipped if you have not already. This way, if they do run away it will be easier to return them to you.

  3. Do not allow children to handle fireworks - Children younger than 15 accounted for 36% of fireworks-related injuries in 2018.

  4. Sparklers — can reach temperatures of 1,800 degrees, the city says. Don't let children play with them.

  5. Follow all local and state laws regarding the possession and use of fireworks.

    For more information, visit fireworks.com/education-and-safety/safety-tips

    Events on July 4th

    1. NAPA

      1. Napa’s 4th of July Parade & Fireworks | 2019

        Thu, 10 AM – 10 PM

        Downtown Napa Association, 1290 Napa Town Center

      2. Red, White & Rosé

        Thu, 1 – 4 PM

        850 Bordeaux Way

      3. Fourth of July Dinner & Fireworks

        Napa General Store, 540 Main St Ste 100

      AMERICAN CANYON

      1. American Canyon Fourth of July Celebration

        American Canyon Planning Department, 4381 Broadway St # 201

      ST. HELENA

      1. 4th of July Bluegrass-Fed Live Music + BBQ:

        Live music, bites and wine. Doors 5:00 PM | Show 7:00 PM

        Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch, 738 Main St

      2. St. Helena’s 4th of July Fireworks Show | 2019

        Thu, 5:30 – 10:00 PM

        Crane Park, 360 Crane Ave

      CALISTOGA

      1. 2019 Calistoga 4th of July Parade, Star-Spangled...

        Thu, 11 AM

        N Oak St

      2. Calistoga’s Napa County Fair, Free Rides ...

        12 – 11 PM

        Napa County Fair Main Office, 1435 N Oak St

      Have a Safe and Happy 4th of July!