Wine Harvest Havoc
August 15, 2008
The weather this year has been a major concern for wine grape growers.The lack of snow and rain last winter meant less water available for normal vineyard use. Couple less water with a greater demand for it, first in late March and the first two weeks in April when vintners used water to combat the unusual cold frost that occurred. Then immediately after the frost the mercury shot up to mark 100 degree days, which meant that more water was needed to irrigate the vines.The weeks of frost destroyed many vineyards, starting this unpredictable grape-growing year on a shaky footing. Then, almost overnight, the weather turned hot and many of the delicate new buds were burned by the searing sun and early high temperatures. This dramatic, unpredictable weather all took place when the vines are at the most critical point when the grape vine buds and the grapes begin to bloom.Vineyard managers saw what looked like one of biggest grape crops in years diminish rapidly in the first few months of this year.Fortunately the early frost did not affect all grape-growing regions in the northern part of the state, but the drought conditions prevailed throughout California. This isnt always a bad scenario for wine grapes. Unlike any other crop, the weather conditions truly affect the flavors of the grape and ultimately the wines made from those grapes. Grapes that are not over-watered tend to have more concentrated flavors, making wines with more complex flavors and aromas.Another hurdle to overcome in the vineyards was the heavy smoke from the wildfires. Because of the smoke the vineyard workers spent much less time in the vineyards tending to the crops, and trellising the vines, as they normally would. Then the worries that arose about what affect the heavy smoke and particulate matter would have on the grape. Many thought that the grapes would have to be washed prior to the start of crush, which could adversely effect the quality of the juice. That does not look like the case as harvest time grows closer. In fact, many wine-makers attribute the heavy smoke to protecting the crops from the high temperatures during that time. Some vineyards reported temperatures stayed around 80 degrees, the perfect temperature for even-ripening of grapes, under the smoke covering.
This years strange weather has also contributed to one of the earliest harvest in recent history. The normal harvest period usually is Aug. 20 through Nov. 1. This years harvest got of to its start Aug. 1, when workers started picking grapes pinot noir, and pinot munier grapes for sparkling wines at J Vineyards andamp; Winery, Mumms, Domaine Carnerous and Schramsberg. Normally, the sparkling wine harvest starts a month or so before the first grapes are picked for white wines, because grapes for sparkling wines are picked at lower sugar levels. This year harvest has begun in Pope Valley, on sauvignon blanc grapes this past week, and red grapes in some areas are ripening at such a pace that their pricing will soon begin. Duke Herringer of Twisted River wines in Clarksburg, who has been growing grapes since the 70s , says harvest will begin this week, the earliest he has ever seen.
Despite the frost, heat and smoke, at the beginning of the growing season the remaining growing season has proven to be perfect for the grape ripening. This years harvest is shaping up to be spectacular. It is expected to be only slightly smaller than 2007s yield. The U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture predicts that this years production would only prove to be down 3 percent from last years, or about 6.05 tons of grapes. Wine makers in Napa and Sonoma think this years grape harvest will be about 10-15 percent smaller than last years, but feel the quality will be much higher.With the early harvest, there may be one more hurdle the growers will have to endure to end this wild weather year for vineyards. With most grape varieties ripening early, and at the same time, the mad scramble to find enough pickers to bring the harvest in at the optimum time for perfectly ripened grapes is about to begin.To see for yourself how this years harvest is shaping up, check out PinotHarvest.com. You will be able to check daily updates of this years pinot harvest from your favorite pinot producer, or favorite appellation, and as many growers are involved in more than just pinot noir, you will be able to check out how other grape varieties harvests are panning out.Dont forget to mark your calendars for two fantastic local wine events that are fast approaching. On Aug. 31 is the 20th annual Alpen Festival at Squaw Valley, and the following weekend is the annual Lake Tahoe Food and Wine Festival at Northstar.