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Taking the Pulse of Vintage 2013

A heat wave has jump-started ripening in what was already an early growing season in California
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jul 10, 2013 10:30am ET

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.

Mark Lyon
Sonoma, California —  July 10, 2013 8:08pm ET
Heat Summation (amount of warm temperatures above 50F since April 1st) has this year warmer than 2004 and almost as warm a 1997!. This is based on temperature data at Windsor in Sonoma County. Both years were warm vintages, and the wines show it.

Veraisson seems to be 2 weeks prior to 2012. Alot can happen between now and harvest. However, no doubt it's an early harvest with larger crop loads. Reminds me of a slightly cooler version of 1997 (large crops, early harvest). This should bring on riper styles for reds.
Tim Fish
Sonoma County —  July 10, 2013 11:50pm ET
Interesting, Mark, thanks for sharing that info. Good luck with harvest.
Mahesh Lekkala
Livingston, NJ, USA —  July 13, 2013 5:12pm ET
it's been an unusual summer all over the country.
As Tim pointed out a lot can happen from now until harvest and let's all wish good luck to the vignerons and winemakers.
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  July 16, 2013 6:24pm ET
Thanks for reporting on this Tim. I'm just a consumer but purchase a lot of California wines, so during that huge heat wave I did a daily check on the diurnal swings in Paso and Napa/Sonoma. Let's hope the growers are painting an accurate picture.

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