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Near-perfect conditions quicken wine grape harvest

Picking has begun in prime growing regions in the northern San Francisco Bay area.

Tim Hearden

August 21, 2019

3 Min Read
Workers harvest wine grapes in the northern San Francisco Bay area.Regents of the University of California

Near-perfect conditions after the surprisingly abundant late-spring rains have helped the wine grape crop meet its traditional mid-August start of harvest in California’s prime growing regions.

In Sonoma County, the first grapes of the season were picked just after midnight Aug. 16 at Sasaki Vineyards in Schellville, with the Pinot Noir grapes slated to go to Gloria Ferrer for its sparkling wine program.

This year’s harvest start in the area was only one day later than the 2018 vintage, despite predictions that it would begin a week to 10 days later than last year because of the rough spring, the Sonoma County Winegrowers explain in a news release.

“This is the most exciting time of the year as the guessing and anticipation are over and ‘go time’ has arrived,” says Karissa Kruse, the group’s president. “Every report we are receiving from throughout Sonoma County indicate good to outstanding quality.”

Vintners, growers and community members in Sonoma Valley gathered Aug. 16 at the Mission San Francisco Solano on the Sonoma Plaza to officially ring the harvest bell.

Meanwhile, the harvest in the Napa Valley began on Aug. 13, starting with sparkling wine producers. Throughout the valley, most white varieties will be harvested through the end of August, while the Cabernet Sauvignon harvest will likely begin in mid-September, the Napa Valley Grapegrowers (NVG) report.

“We have had favorable ripening conditions in Napa Valley over the last 30 days,” NVG president Paul Goldberg says in a release. He is also president of Bettinelli Vineyards in St. Helena. “The very mild, early-season temperatures have led to an incredible growing season.”

Preparing for harvest

Elsewhere, irrigation and mechanical vineyard maintenance were ongoing in preparation for harvest, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service office in Sacramento. The cool spring may have slowed fruit growth and held back degree-day accumulation in some areas, which could push back harvest for those vineyards, industry groups say.

But long hours and seven-day work weeks will be the norm in vineyards throughout the state in the coming weeks.

Heavy rains in March and April cultivated robust cover crops, which organically enriched the soil with lots of nutrients, NVG explains. The heavy rain delayed pruning and bud break by a few weeks in some parts of the Napa Valley, but that didn’t affect the overall crop, the group reports.

Growers in the Napa area say April’s rains created some shatter in Chardonnay clusters during bloom, but it really didn’t reduce the crop size. The growers compare it to the same amount of reduction that occurs normally, calling early-spring rains “nature’s way of thinning,” NVG remarks.

After fruit set was right on course in the spring, the late rains in May were followed by a heat spike in early June, which growers say sparked canopy growth. But the mostly moderate weather this summer brought on a veraison that has been “beautiful and even,” Goldberg says.

Vineyards report that hotter temperatures in early to mid-August provided the right amount of stress to occur at the right time, according to Sonoma County Winegrowers.

Consumers can get a taste of the California harvest experience at several wineries, notes the San Francisco-based Wine Institute. Alexander Valley VineyardsBenessere Vineyards and Grgich Hills Estate offer grape-stomping events, while Schramsberg/Davies Vineyards and Trefethen Family Vineyards host immersive harvest boot camps that allow wine lovers to get hands-on in the vineyard and winery.

For more news on pests, disease management and other issues affecting vineyards, subscribe to the bi-monthly newsletter The Grape Line.

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