There's one thing you can say about the recent growing seasons in Northern California: They haven't been boring. 2010 was chilly then blazing hot. 2009 and 2011 were soggy. Only 2012 was a dream.
As for 2013, it's too early to tell.
Because of warm weather in late winter and spring, the season began early, with budbreak starting March 1 and bloom unfolding in mid-May. Skies were mostly sunny as summer began, and the season was moving along at a good clip, and then an extended heat wave arrived (with temperatures hovering around 100° F) in late June and continued through the Fourth of July.
Winemakers, who are typically on vacation this time of year, are only now assessing the impact of the heat. Damage seems minimal, they report, with only a few sunburned grapes, but the warm temperatures moved things into higher gear. Veraison, when grapes begin to ripen, turning softer and changing color, is already starting, making it one of the earliest times I remember. The start of veraison indicates that harvest could begin as soon as six weeks from now.
However, the long-term forecast calls for cooler weather, and Williams Selyem winemaker Bob Cabral said that should slow things down.
"I think a few folks may feel like the harvest is two to three weeks early. That would be true if comparing to 2010, 2011 and some areas during 2012," Cabral said. "But comparing 2013 to an average over the past 10 to 14 [vintages], I estimate our vineyards are only a little over seven days ahead of that average."
Sparkling-wine houses will be the first to harvest, since they like to retain the grape's crisp acidity. Mumm Napa expects to begin picking July 22, four weeks ahead of last year and perhaps the earliest on record for the winery.
A lot can happen between now and then. All it takes is for a few inches of rain at the wrong time. In the mean time, I'm not taking the AC out of my office window just yet.