Smaller Sonoma crop half in; ‘the vines know we’re at the end’The stretch of hot weather in the first half of October brightened the outlook of North Coast winegrape growers that had been anxiously waiting for their grapes to ripen in a long, cool season punctuated with spring frost and showers and a few fall days of ill-timed sizzling temperatures followed by rain.
Temperatures in the 90s and around 100 in early October kick-started the 2010 North Coast harvest, delayed by two to four weeks by cool and damp days throughout much of the season.
"It's almost but not quite the end of one of the most difficult seasons on record, with wet weather, mold and mildew, sunburn and a bad [grape] market," said Brian Clements, partner of Turrentine Brokerage in Novato.
If the remaining days of October are warm and dry, North Coast growers hope to get the majority of their crops to wineries by early next month.
“Sugars are coming up for the crops, but there is a bit of dehydration going on,” said Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission. “The vines know we’re at the end of the season.”
Picking in Sonoma County was about half-complete by last Wednesday, a big improvement from around 20 percent done at the beginning of the week, according to Mr. Frey. Much of the cabernet sauvignon crop and other later-maturing varieties are still on vines in the county.
“It’s going at a good pace,” he said. “This weather is about ideal.”
The current projection is a crop of less than 180,000 tons this year in Sonoma County. That would be below last year's ample 211,000 tons but above the frost-hit 169,000-ton 2008 crop and below the 198,000-ton 2007 crop.
Jackson Family Wines is about 25 percent complete with the 2010 harvest, according to a spokeswoman.
The company often is half to two-thirds done with picking by this point in a season, according to Randy Ullom, winemaster for Kendall-Jackson. The best assessment of crop size is what chardonnay has been brought in so far.
"When you're talking about hang time, we have great hang time this year," Mr. Ullom. "Although some grapes got hit with sunburn, flavor development overall is great. I have not seen any color or fermentation issues to date."
Zinfandel and chardonnay in the county were the hardest-hit by the three days of 100-degree temperatures in late August after months of cool temperature "sunburned" grapes left exposed by leaf pulling to spur grape development and prevent mildew.
At this point, 30 percent of the zinfandel crop and up to 10 percent of chardonnay appears to have been damaged, according to grape experts.
Yet, hotter weather recently has dried out chardonnay clusters and reduced the anticipated level of rot in the crop, according to Mr. Frey.
The readiness of the Jackson's North Coast vineyards for harvest is ahead of those in Santa Barbara and Monterey counties. In typically lagging vineyards in Mendocino County, zinfandel grapes are starting to come in, but about half of the grapes are still two to three weeks away from being ready, Mr. Ullom said.