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Drawbacks of a Bountiful Harvest: More Grapes, More Problems

The abundant 2013 California harvest is accelerating, and vintners are starting to wonder where they're going to put all those grapes
California vintners are looking at an early and abundant crop, which may cause headaches in the winery.

Posted: Sep 20, 2013 2:00pm ET

Too early and too much.

These are but two thoughts on the minds of many California vintners as harvest accelerates following what has been a largely uneventful, if not ideal, growing season. Heat spikes haven't been a big issue; rain isn't expected to be a concern. The immediate weather forecast for the North Coast calls for milder temperatures over the next week, which will be a plus. All of that seemingly good news means vintners may be dealing with more than they bargained for.

Some winemakers are wary of flavor development in their grapes, since they're coming off the vine early; others clearly have far more grapes than they anticipated.

2013 is turning out to be a monster crop in California, a good 10 percent or more than anticipated earlier in the season, according to anecdotal comments from winemakers. Some winemakers in Napa are comparing 2013 to 2007, a big and bountiful crop for Cabernet Sauvignon.

Vintners knew this was coming, since so many spend so much time watching their crop loads, but there's not much they can do about it. Big crops are often accompanied by risky harvesting strategies—pulling some grapes in early to get them off the vine and crushed before bigger parcels come in, or leaving grapes on the vine longer than necessary because the fermenting vats are already full. Huge crops put a crimp on fermentation space, namely tanks and barrels. Turning those tanks—moving earlier-picked wines to barrel to make room in the tanks for those later-ripening reds to come—doesn't give winemakers many options. Once tanks and barrels are at capacity, harvesting has to slow down. Accelerated fermentations are one way to move the must.

Winemakers are good at hyping vintages, and soon we'll be hearing that 2013 is the best since the last time we checked, way back in 2012 as that vintage went to barrel. In fairness, aside from a spotty 2011, it's been a long time since a harvest went awry in California, and even though the 2011s are off the pace of the best years, quality is far better than it would have been under the same conditions 20 years ago.

Large crops are a bonanza for négociants—those who buy bulk wine, blend and bottle it—and most wineries will declassify lesser lots of what should be high-quality wine. In recent years, there's been a shortage of bulk wine. That shouldn't be the case this year.

One upshot: It's probably a good year for amateurs to turn pro, as there should be a lot of good-quality grapes looking for homes.

John Eagan
Beverly Hills  —  September 21, 2013 3:09pm ET
This article is not taking into account that some areas in Sonoma have received a 1/2 inch of rain today - that means they could leave 20% of the crop on the ground because of rot. Napa isn't as wet. Keep your fingers crossed that storage is the biggest problem.
Sherri Q Holmes
Chicago, Il, USA —  September 23, 2013 3:19pm ET
and if there is a storage problem donate to food shelter
Steven Mirassou
Livermore Valley —  September 25, 2013 12:59pm ET
For later-ripening BDX varieties, the rain didn't pose a problem. In the Livermore Valley windy conditions followed the rain and helped to dry our Cabernet blocks out.

We anticipate a slightly larger than average crop, but the quality of the fruit, thus far, looks (and tastes) exceptional.
Eric Hall
Healdsburg, CA —  October 8, 2013 3:14pm ET
Pinot Noir came in "up" in Sonoma County and the rain did not cause much, if any, mold problems, although brix went down a bit in some areas.

Roadhouse Winery

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