'We've done 25% of our harvest in the past six days'
[caption id="attachment_15893" align="alignright" width="192" caption=""There's good color with a lot of red and nice flavor development," said Paul Ahvenainen"][/caption]
North Coast winegrape growers late last week were looking forward to a few warm, breezy days to dry out the remaining grapes on the vine and close out what has been a surprising, challenging season in terms of weather and economics.
Unexpected early-season weather dramatically reduced the crop size from well above five-year averages in projections based on the fast start to the vine, with aggressive crop thinning based on those estimates also a major factor, according to viticulture trade groups. The first state report on winegrape tonnage is set to be released in early February. Yet tonnage for most North Coast varieties likely will be in line with yields in 2006 through last year.
However, tonnage for Russian River Valley pinot noir is 20 percent to 30 percent below average and in line with the small crop from last year, according to Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission.
The moderate temperatures with just a few heat spikes during the season resulted in grape maturation that looks encouraging for 2009 vintage quality, according to some winemakers.
[caption id="attachment_15894" align="alignleft" width="288" caption="Korbel crushing"][/caption]
"There's good color with a lot of red and nice flavor development," said Paul Ahvenainen of Korbel.
Most of the 2009 harvest has been characterized as steady and methodical because of the relatively cool weather.
Yet two to five inches of rain on Oct. 13 followed near-freezing temperatures in a number of North Coast areas the week before and several 90- and 100-degree days in late September. That sped up ripening for many thin-skinned grape varieties susceptible to bursting from rain, encouraging rot. Most of the North Coast chardonnay and pinot noir grapes have been picked, but some zinfandel and petite sirah remain on the vine.
"If the weather breaks and holds, in two weeks we'll be done," said Mr. Frey, noting forecasts for warm days. "I'm sure everyone will be happy to close the book on 2009 and hope 2010 will be better."
[caption id="attachment_15895" align="alignright" width="205" caption="Randy Ullom"][/caption]
Jackson Family Wines, which has 40 coastal brands produced from nearly a dozen facilities, also is expecting to finish picking by November after a day-and-night push to harvest as much fruit as possible before the storm, according to Randy Ullom, winemaster. The Santa Rosa-based company hardly had any grapes on the vine in Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma counties by the time the storm arrived.
"We've done 25 percent of our harvest in the past six days," Mr. Ullom said as the rain was pouring down Oct. 13. "We could have gone faster, but we did not want to go so fast that we were picking unripe grapes."
Jackson owns 80 percent of its vines and has three-year "evergreen" contracts on virtually all of the rest. That amount of control allowed for multiple passes through the rows to cut off undeveloped clusters as early-season yield forecasts were suggesting big crops, and some matured grapes were "dropped" too to reduce future inventory.