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Wine Harvest Report 2016: Sonoma Winemakers Wrap the Season on a High Note

Vintners say early rains lowered some yields, but a warm, steady summer produced promising wines
Photo by: Courtesy Carlisle Winery & Vineyards
Sorting clusters of freshly picked Syrah at Carlisle Winery & Vineyards.

Tim Fish
Posted: November 3, 2016

You won't hear many complaints about the 2016 vintage from Sonoma winemakers. While the growing season brought some hiccups, it was largely uneventful. Winemakers like uneventful.

The biggest challenges came early. The growing season got off to an early start, with budbreak occurring in some areas by the beginning of February. According to Benovia winemaker Mike Sullivan, when flowering began about a month later, rains stunted cluster development in a few vineyards, making for smaller berries and clusters.

But moderate weather prevailed throughout summer. The lack of heat waves kept sugar levels and phenolic maturity in sync. "Ripening progressed slowly and predictably," said Arista winemaker Matt Courtney.

"The only extended periods of extreme heat came in late June and late July," said Bryan Kvamme, winemaker at Martinelli. "This allowed us to wait for the gradual accumulation of flavors we were looking for, rather than reacting to rapidly climbing Brix numbers."

Late August was unusually cool and cloudy. That "bought us a few additional weeks of hang time without excessive sugar accumulation" said Carlisle winemaker Mike Officer. "Color was off the charts in reds."

Harvest got underway Aug. 2 with picking of sparkling wine grapes at Gloria Ferrer. Grapes for still wines began coming in by mid-August.

Crop size varied by variety and region. According to Adam Lee of Siduri, after several vintages of small Pinot Noir crops, "The yields were actually 'normal' for the first time in recent memory."

One of the few harvest headaches mentioned by winemakers was that many varieties ripened at the same time. "We were pulling in as much fruit as we could handle each day, re-filling tanks with crushed grapes as soon as they came empty," said Tim Bell of Dry Creek Vineyard.

Most wineries finished crush by late September, although Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah in some areas were picked just before heavy rains arrived in early October.

Early indications on quality bode well. "Berries were firm and had perfectly healthy skins and therefore vivid, deep flavors, great acidity and tannins and excellent freshness," said DuMol winemaker Andy Smith. "The wines will be very pure, with strong specific vineyard signatures."

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