The San Francisco Giants playoff run has been a pleasant distraction for many Northern California vintners, watching the skies, weather forecasts and waiting for their grapes to ripen.
Usually by this time of the year, harvest is as done as the Giants. Not so this year.
The Giants are still battling for a shot at the World Series, and vintners are rushing to bring in tons of grapes. And as with pitching, the key to quality is location.
Depending on the grapes and where the vineyards are planted, 2010 is about as mixed a year as happens in California. Pinot Noir and most whites appear to have fared well. Mac McDonald of Vision Cellars in Sonoma said he had picked his Pinot earlier in the month and his wines had finished fermentation. Cooler coastal Pinot vineyards will be among the most hard-pressed to ripen.
Zinfandel tonnage is off in some areas, notably Sonoma, but quality appears good to excellent. Napa Valley Cabernet is still only about 50 percent picked, but that is changing fast. Vintners are eyeing a possible weekend storm and bringing grapes in as fast as possible.
"We're closing in on it," said Celia Welch of Corra, in Napa Valley. "It's just nuts. Have you been out on the roads? There are grape trucks everywhere."
Welch said vintners expected a little more rain this weekend, but the storm should not be a "season ender." "I've told my clients, 'Let's hold off. If the fruit isn't tasting good let's let it hang.'"
The 2010 season "was quirky from the get-go," said Welch. Vintners knew in June that the season would be late "and certainly we had time to prepare for that [by thinning the crop]," she said.
Chuck Wagner of Caymus agreed that some of the cooler vineyard sites might not ripen. "That's just the way it is," he said. "That's farming." Overall, the quality of the grapes picked is good, he said. "We're pleased by the wines we've made so far."
For all the oddities of the growing season, David Ramey said he doesn't expect any of the weather factors will show up in the quality of the wines. "We're mostly done," said Ramey. Well-drained hillside vineyards might weather the forecast of 1 to 3 inches of rain this weekend, but not the valley floor sites. If it rains as projected, "anything in the valley [floor] is over."
Frantic and condensed are two words to describe the 2010 harvest in most parts of the state.
In Paso Robles, the harvest is shifting into high gear. "So far the weather here remains favorable, [and we're] bringing in fruit nice and steady," said Justin Smith of Saxum, who grows Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. "The real challenge is in a few weeks [when] everything is going to be in tank at once [and] a real space crunch." Some small wine companies have opted not to make wine this year, Smith said, in order to decrease inventory. If there is a good year to not make wine, 2010 might be it.
However, it is years like this that energize vintners. "As a winemaker, we live for these challenges," said Welch. "Anyone can do an easy [harvest]. It's the hard ones that get us excited. Everyone is feeling amped."
Brad Paulsen — Saratoga, CA — October 22, 2010 4:07pm ET
Bill Whyte — Yardley Pa — October 23, 2010 12:01pm ET
Alan Tran — San Jose, Ca USA — October 23, 2010 12:23pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — October 23, 2010 1:13pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — October 23, 2010 1:15pm ET
Jeffrey Matchen — New Jersey — October 23, 2010 1:47pm ET
Andrew J Walter — Sacramento, CA — October 24, 2010 12:23am ET
Steve Scorzetti — New Jersey — October 25, 2010 12:52pm ET
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