There are a lot of happy faces in California wine country right now. Not to jinx it, but things are looking great in the vineyards.
"So far, this year's weather has been pretty much perfect," Jason Haas of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles said. That holds true up north in Sonoma County, where Pete Seghesio of Seghesio Vineyards said, "The season has been a Goldilocks experience so far—not too hot, not too cold, just the right amount of sun and fog."
I'm not sure there is a "normal" anymore when it comes to California's growing season, but growers and vintners certainly deserve a first-class, easygoing vintage. The 2010 and 2011 vintages were like suspense novels with cruel endings, and even 2009 had its challenges. "It has been so long since we've had a normal year that normal feels abnormal," Mike Officer of Carlisle said.
The timing of the season is back on track this year after running weeks behind in the two previous vintages. (Which meant a lot of grapes were still hanging when early rains hit.) "It's so nice to be average," Justin Smith of Saxum in Paso Robles said. "Two weeks ahead of last year makes us about dead average."
Most vineyards around the state are going through veraison, a crucial period when the grapes begin to soften and start losing their green color, taking on shades of red or yellow depending on the variety. Basically, the grapes stop growing in size and start accumulating sugar.
Veraison is also a vague indication of when harvest will begin—about six weeks later, in general.
Chuck Wagner of Caymus harvests Cabernet Sauvignon from all over Napa Valley and he said most vineyards are only 10 to 20 percent through veraison. "The crop size is moderate and the vines are healthy."
Bob Cabral of Williams Selyem said his Pinot Noir vineyards along Westside Road in the heart of Russian River Valley are about 90 percent through veraison, and while Adam Lee of Siduri reported that his Russian River Pinot is a bit behind that, veraison has yet to start with his Sonoma Coast Pinots.
"[Fruit] set was great," Smith said of his Central Coast vineyards. "There's more fruit than the last three years, but not too much. It's looking very similar to 2007 at this point. There are only a couple berries that have turned [color] on hilltop Syrah; everything else is a couple weeks out. I'm keeping my fingers crossed it continues."
Zinfandel vines in Napa and Sonoma are just getting started with veraison, said Steve Hall of Robert Biale Vineyards. "A little cool weather just the past few weeks pushed our estimated pick of the warmer [region] Zins to the second and third week of September, fingers crossed."
For now, winemakers say they're trying not to get their hopes up … yet. "I am extremely positive up to this point," Cabral said, "but Mother Nature can be cruel late in the game." Added Officer: "There's still a lot of weather between now and harvest. Still, we're due for a good one and this very well may be it."
Tim Fish — Santa Rosa, CA — August 1, 2012 12:49pm ET
Joe-janelle Becerra — Burlingame, CA — August 1, 2012 7:43pm ET
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — August 6, 2012 7:43pm ET
Jc Flugger-vice Versa — Saint Helena, CA USA — August 11, 2012 1:45pm ET
Matthew Segura — San Francisco, California, USA — August 20, 2012 8:11pm ET
Jack Fleming — Rancho Palos Verdes, CA — September 8, 2012 10:04pm ET
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