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Wine grape harvest winding down

All things considered, this was a pretty good year to grow winegrapes. Pest and disease pressures have been mostly minimal, weather cooperated, and the vintage looks excellent.

“On a statewide basis, I believe we’re about 90 percent complete with harvest,” says Karen Ross, president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG). “Progress is close to normal. We had some warm weather in September, which really moved things up, but since then temperatures have been very mild. The pace had been smooth until the last week, when rain and threat of rain caused things to pick up quite a bit. Some decided to go ahead and take grapes into the winery. The prolonged cooler temperatures do mean sugars have not been moving.”

Generally, yields are not record-breaking, but they’re not all that bad either. Chardonnay appears to the hardest hit, which is not particularly disturbing from an industry-wide perspective, considering the glut of 2005.

“It appears yields are average to the short side of average,” Ross says. “It sounds like Chardonnay statewide is definitely shorter than early estimates. Beyond that, it’s different for almost every variety by region. That’s the beauty of California — so many diverse regions!”

Growers are still a bit under the hammer when it comes to pricing, particularly if they don’t have a contract.

“Grapes on the open market, in many places, are still going at very low prices, with some exceptions,” Ross says. “The interior is still suffering from prices that are below the cost of production for many grape varietals on the open market.”

With an eye to the future, some growers appear to be chasing the latest “hot” varietal, but that seems to be limited at present. With many vineyards already struggling to break even, new plantings are also minimal.

“Planting activity is still fairly slow, due to the lack of pre-plant contracts that take into account the higher cost of development for everything from trellis materials to labor and fuel,” Ross says. “But, there are some plantings of varietals that have been short the last couple of years — Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Grigio. Grafting has been occurring from Merlot and Cabernet to Pinot Noir.”

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