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Winegrape harvest has begun in California’s Napa and Sonoma counties.

Winegrape harvest under way in Napa, Sonoma

Sparkling wine varieties, pinot noir grapes are among the first to come off the vines.

Things got underway in earnest this year somewhere between the first and second week of August with Napa Valley grape growers picking sparkling wine varieties and clusters of pinot noir grapes being harvested in Sonoma County, where economic value of grape production is estimated to be worth $500,000.

Monterey County growers began their harvest a week later with the anticipation of smaller crop, but high-quality fruit.

Napa growers called it a superb growing season with fruit ready to pick while North Coast growers indicated healthy fruit in a lighter crop.

According to the Napa Valley Grapegrowers News, the 2020 growing season “bodes well for a landmark harvest.” The report quotes Kendall Hoxsey-Onysko of Yount Mill Vineyards as saying, “Amidst the chaos of the pandemic, it has been a superb growing season and growers with beautiful fruit feel the continuity of harvest.”

Napa growers, Larry Hyde (2020 Napa Valley Grower of the Year) and son Christopher of Hyde Vineyards report: “Because of drought conditions, our harvest came early this year (mid-August) commencing with our sparkling wine grapes. So far vintage is about average yield for Pinot noir and about 15-20% lower for Chardonnay as we had some rain during Chardonnay bloom time along with the most severe frost in a decade that likely affected yield.

“Grapes are still ripening and it looks to be an average crop,” the Hydes report. “Our harvest at Hyde stretches out for about two months and generally ends with Cabernet Sauvignon picking towards the end of October.”

The senior Hyde began his career nearly 50 years on an initial 70 acres in Carneros that has now grown to 200 acres. He’s overseen a lot of harvests and has moved the industry forward, experimenting with row orientation, vine spacing, and clone planting that resulted in more than 10 esteemed varieties planted. 

“While requests are still coming in from winemakers reserving their picks for more sparkling, Chardonnay still is tops on our schedule,” he says.

Smaller crop than anticipated

With vintners seeing signs of a lower-than-anticipated crop on the North Coast, that may not turn out to be a bad thing considering lowered demand and lingering supply. Glenn Proctor of the Ciatti Co. grape and wine brokerage firm anticipates North Coast wine grape tonnage will be as much as 10% less than the recent annual average of 500,000 tons.

Ciatti’s August California Report indicates: “Vineyards appear in excellent condition across the state (with) very little disease pressure and few, if any, climate extremes. Crop size in the early stage looks lighter than average.

“In the North Coast, harvest is ahead of normal with picking of still whites (while) Cabernet may start the first week of September. Central Coast harvest is also ahead of normal as is crush in Central Valley with early pick lighter than the two previous years.”

In the red category, “California still has way more Cabernet than it knows what to do with,” reported Wine-Searcher News earlier this year. “There’s still an oversupply of grapes — mostly, but not exclusively, Cabernet (although) the oversupply isn’t as extreme as last year because many grapes were simply not harvested in 2019 without a clear market.”

With a predicted $437 million industry loss this year from COVID-19-related economic disruptions, California wine sale volume (March 2020 to February 2021) is anticipated to drop by 9.21 million cases. California Association of Winegrape Growers President John Aguirre is on record as saying, “Growers are accustomed to cyclical markets, but the pandemic threatens to turn a down year into a financial catastrophe for many of them.”

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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