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“On the Road on the Central Coast” – wine grape update

Wednesday (July 24) was another exciting day (Day Two) on the Central Coast as this Western Farm Press editor visited with several wine grape growers and a University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) viticulture farm advisor.

Chris Hammell, vineyard manager at Bien Nacido Vineyards near Santa Maria (Santa Barbara County), said his wine grape crop is maturing a bit early this year.

About one-third of Bien Nacido’s acreage is planted in Chardonnay and another one third in Pinot Noir. The remaining third is a mix of a dozen or so other varieties, including Syrah.

Hammell has the best set on Pinot Noir than he’s ever seen in his 13 years with Bien Nacido. The clusters are perfect with no berry shatter.

Crop yields will be slightly larger. Average yields are two tons per acre for Pinot Noir; Chardonnay – 3.5 to 4 tons; and Syrah – 1.5 to 2 tons per acre.

Bien Nacido grows grapes for the premium wine market.

The crop is clean, Hammell says. There has been strong powdery mildew pressure, especially in the Chardonnay.

In the afternoon, I traveled about an hour north to the Paso Robles wine-grape region in Paso Robles County. Wine grapes are a major commodity grown there.

I met with UCCE viticulture farm advisor Mark Battany of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, and viticulturist Anji Perry of J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines, in a J. Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard near the winery.

Battany says water (and the lack thereof) is a severe issue in Paso Robles as local groundwater levels continue to decline. Battany is conducting research as part of a two-state project (California and Washington) to improve water efficiency in wine-grape production.

In the Cabernet vineyard, Perry is conducting tests to better determine how water truly impacts grape yield and quality. She is working with pressure bomb readings, soil moisture measurements, and other methods, including how higher salt content impacts grapes as well water levels continue to decline.

The next stop for this journalist is a vineyard and winery in Soledad in Monterey County. 

Complete stories from this week’s tour of the Central Coast will appear on the Western Farm Press website and in Western Farm Press magazine.

Stay tuned. There’s more to come.

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