While you were marinating in the sun or elbowing a path through Europe or the Wisconsin Dells, California winemakers were busy laboring at ... well, their vacations, same as the rest of us.
Just about the only thing hard at work this time of year seems to be the vineyards. While you lollygag your way through July, I figure it's a good time to see what's happening in California's vineyards.
I checked with Kendall-Jackson winemaster Randy Ullom, who works with vines all over the state, and as it turns out, the growing season is entering a crucial phase: veraison. Basically, that is the onset of ripening, when grapes begin to soften and start losing their green color, taking on shades of red or yellow depending on the variety.
"Veraison gives you a reference point," Ullom said. "You can guess when your harvest might be and also judge how it compares to the norm."
Veraison is underway in Santa Barbara, mainly with Pinot Noir, Ullom said, and is just starting in Monterey. Varieties like Pinot and Chardonnay ripen the earliest, while Cabernet Sauvignon is often the last to start.
This year Napa Cab producers don't need to hurry back from their holiday, since most of the vineyards are about two weeks behind thanks to an unusually cold and wet spring. Cooler regions of Russian River Valley were nearly a month behind back in mid-June but have recouped a few weeks thanks to consistently warm weather.
The timing of veraision is crucial, a stark and expensive lesson many growers and winemakers learned in 2010. In late August of that year a record-breaking heat wave hit Northern California and some grapes still in the vulnerable veraison stage—particularly old vine Zinfandel—were more or less microwaved on the vine.
While winemakers may continue to speculate when a vineyard will be ready to pick, one fact is already clear. The 2011 crop will be smaller than usual, which means fewer bottles of wine for consumers in the long run.
Lousy weather in the spring again was the culprit. It was unusually chilly, soggy and windy when many of the vines were flowering. That stunted the number of grapes and created loose and uneven clusters, which growers often trim or cut off entirely.
For now, it's a waiting game. Activity will soon ramp up in the weeks approaching harvest. It's not necessarily a bad thing that the season is a few weeks behind. If the summer offers consistent warm temperatures and the rain holds off until mid-October, winemakers won't complain.
Besides, a few more days of vacation in July don't hurt.
Brian Loring — Lompoc, CA — July 28, 2011 12:15pm ET
Chris A Elerick — Orlando, FL — July 28, 2011 2:54pm ET
Ronald A Fazio Jr — Richmond Va — July 31, 2011 1:48pm ET
Brian Loring — Lompoc, CA — August 1, 2011 1:51pm ET
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