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Could Harvest Be Just Six Weeks Away in California?

Early signs of veraison point to an unusual start for crush in 2014
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jun 18, 2014 11:00am ET

Take your vacation soon, California winemakers. Early signs of veraison are already upon us. Veraison—when grapes begin ripening, turn softer and change color—rarely starts this early. It usually doesn't get going until the Fourth of July.

Veraison is significant for many reasons, but it's a big indicator of when harvest could begin: about six weeks later is the general rule. A lot depends on the region, grape variety, how a vineyard is farmed and, of course, the weather, but it boggles the mind that harvest could begin before Aug. 1, and not just for sparkling wine.

Because of warm weather in the spring and the continuing drought, the 2014 growing season has run early since the beginning.

Bedrock winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson this week spotted veraison on 109-year-old Zinfandel vines in Pato Vineyard and with Mourvèdre in Evangelho Vineyard; both are located in Contra Costa County northeast of San Francisco Bay.

Siduri winemaker Adam Lee reported that Pinot Noir vines are beginning to ripen along the Santa Lucia Highlands, which often sees an early pick.

Central Coast grower Peter Cargasacchi said Pinot Noir in Santa Maria Valley and Syrah in Paso Robles planted in light, sandy soils and with good sun exposure are getting started. As for his vineyards in cooler Sta. Rita Hills, Cargasacchi said, "I normally start [veraison] the first week of August, but expect to see it in early to mid-July."

Most regions in Napa and Sonoma counties are a few weeks away, as is much of Paso Robles. Jason Haas 
Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso hasn't spotted veraison yet but expects harvest to begin by the end of August, two weeks earlier than normal but about the same time as last year.

When Saxum winemaker Justin Smith in Paso Robles heard that some areas were beginning veraison, he asked, "Whoa, are you serious? We aren't close at all—still pea-sized berries."

Yes, it's going to be an interesting year. Look for updates here on vintage 2014 in California. What about other winemakers and growers: What are you seeing in your vineyards?

Carole Meredith
Mount Veeder, Napa —  June 18, 2014 12:05pm ET
We're still a long way off up here on Mount Veeder. The berries are still fairly small.
Tim Fish
Sonoma County —  June 18, 2014 3:36pm ET
That doesn't surprise me, Carole. Thanks for commenting. Cheers.
David Rossi
Napa, CA —  June 19, 2014 7:57am ET
My best guess is my first harvest will be in Chalone for Pinot Noir(still wine, not sparkling) around the end of August. We are running just slightly ahead of last year. My records show we pick between 1850 and 1950 degree days in Soledad. That would give us about 55 days to go.

Very ballpark, but I would be shocked if we hadn't picked by Labor Day.
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco —  June 19, 2014 1:29pm ET
We in California seemingly are becoming Australia, where some regions routinely start picking in early February (analogous to August in the N hemisphere). They deal with drought routinely too.
Thomas T Thomas
Philo, CA, Mendocino —  June 19, 2014 7:36pm ET
still pea size berries in my vineyard in Anderson Valley so while we might be early, I can't see it being early August
Tablas Creek Vineyard
Paso Robles, CA —  June 20, 2014 5:04pm ET
Thanks, Tim! This will indeed be an interesting year to watch develop. For anyone interested in a little more detail on what we're seeing in Paso Robles (and why we think it will still be a while before we see veraison at Tablas Creek) there are photos and some analysis on our blog: http://tablascreek.typepad.com/tablas/2014/06/veraison-in-june-not-so-fast-in-paso-robles-at-least.html
Jolene Patterson
Sonoma County California —  June 22, 2014 1:49pm ET
I regularly visit pinot noir and chardonnay vineyards in Sonoma County. In most vineyards, the growth stage is still evident with tendrils reaching and strong (not ready for veraison), although the vineyards appear to be 2-3 weeks ahead of 2013. One group of vineyards using a Grand-Cru style planting was shutting down and looking to start veraison in the next week or so (located in the Russian River Valley AVA and Occidental Hills of the Sonoma Coast AVA)

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