California Harvest Shifts into High Gear

With the season running weeks behind, last week’s heat takes the pressure off winemakers
Sep 28, 2011

Last week’s heat wave jumpstarted the harvest in California, much to the relief of growers and winemakers. Temperatures were in the mid-90s all week, one of the rare extended blasts of heat all summer.

But the sigh of relief was short-lived. A major rainstorm is predicted for early next week. Still, knowing that forecasts change quickly in California, winemakers remain optimistic.

“Last week's warmth was exactly what we needed,” winemaker David Ramey said. “We've brought in half of our Carneros Chardonnay and most of the upper [warmer] Russian River Chardonnay, but no reds yet.”

On the Sonoma side of Carneros, at Gloria Ferrer, winemaker Bob Iantosca is wrapping up his sparkling wine harvest this week. “We are over half finished with our still wine Pinot Noir, with the remaining blocks looking like they will be ready by the end of this week.”

In Russian River Valley in western Sonoma County, Williams Selyem winemaker Bob Cabral said most of the Pinot Noir from his vineyards along Westside and Eastside roads will “be in the barn” early this week. “The fruit so far has been very good and it’s shaping up to be a very good vintage for us. Long, slow maturity of skin and seed tannins has brought out a noticeable complexity in the juice as well as the ferments.”

A bit farther north, in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley, Sbragia Family and Wilson wineries will start harvesting Zinfandel this week. Mauritson has finished Sauvignon Blanc and has already picked most of its dry-farmed Zinfandel vineyards. “We were seeing some raisining and defoliation [in the dry-farmed vines]. The acids are a little high, which can be a blessing in disguise,” winemaker Clay Mauritson said.

In Mendocino’s Anderson Valley, Breggo winemaker Ryan Hodgins has already brought in Pinot Noir from Ferrington Vineyards and later this week will harvest Gewürztraminer. Its Savoy Vineyard, located in a cooler section of the valley, still has a long way to go and Hodgins added, “I don't expect to bring in any more Pinot Noir until after Oct. 1.”

Down along the California Central Coast, winemaker Jason Haas of Tablas Creek finally started picking last week and admitted, “I'm feeling much more positive about the vintage than I was six weeks ago.” So far he has brought in Viognier, Syrah, Vermentino and Roussanne and the yields are higher than expected. “The later-ripening varieties have caught up from their late start.”

Finally in Napa Valley, harvest is still in low gear. Tom Rinaldi, director of winemaking for Hewitt and Provenance, has finished picking Sauvignon Blanc and says “We appear to be light by nearly 40 percent. We anticipate beginning our red grape harvest this month, but barely.”

“The heat has definitely given everything a kick in the rear-end,” said Nate Weis, winemaker for the Antinori family’s Antica winery in Napa. Pinot and Chardonnay will be picked this week and, he said, “We expect to start Bordeaux varieties in early October.”

At Viader Vineyards, located 1,200 feet above Napa Valley on Howell Mountain, winemaker Alan Viader is still playing the waiting game on his reds, which isn’t unusual for mountain fruit on a cool year. “With this nice weather we'll be able to let things hang out and mature at a relaxed pace,” Viader said. “We should start getting busy in the next two or three weeks.”

Sunday’s weather was a major shift toward cool and cloudy, and there were even a few sprinkles in Northern California. That’s not a big deal, although botrytis remains a constant threat this season. This week’s high temperatures are expected to be in the mid-80s. “That will give time to catch up in the cellar before the next big push of fruit comes in,” Cabral said.

The storm predicted to arrive next Tuesday could bring 1 to 2 inches of rain. Some winemakers will be hustling the next seven days to bring in fruit but many vineyards aren’t even close to being ripe. Similar early storms played havoc in 2009 and 2010.

“Syrah isn’t even in the ballpark,” said Mike Officer of Carlisle. The same holds for most Cabernet Sauvignon. Those late-ripening grapes will have to ride out the rain. “The concern for a lot of folks is Zinfandel and Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, especially in Russian River.” Anything more than a half an inch of rain could inflame botrytis problems.

As Adam Lee of Siduri said, “It could get ugly.” For her part, Wilson winemaker Diane Wilson is thinking positive: “Keep your fingers crossed that Mother Nature will cooperate.”

More Harvest Report 2011

See More

2011 Vintage Report: United States

Nov 18, 2011

2011 Vintage Report: California

Nov 17, 2011

2011 Vintage Report: Europe

Nov 16, 2011

2011 Vintage Report: Italy

Nov 15, 2011

2011 Vintage Report: France

Nov 14, 2011

Harvest 2011 United States California Harvest Report 2011

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