Grape Market Insights: ‘Bulldogging’ the size of Sonoma County’s 2011 pinot noir crop

Viticulturists trained at U.C., Davis have some high-tech methods for early season crop estimates. These techniques involve infinitesimal calculus and the molecular weights of certain tannin compounds.

We Fresno State Bulldogs, on the other hand, walk miles of vine rows, look at a lot of vines and talk to a lot of growers. Our reports are not as cool looking as U.C. Davis, but at least we get some exercise.

Well, I have been getting my exercise recently in Sonoma County pinot noir vineyards. It looks to my Fresno State--trained eyes that in most areas of Sonoma County there are mostly two grape clusters per shoot. (A grape shoot is green tissue growing vertically out of a bud, usually located on a two-bud spur on the main arm or cordon of a grapevine.)

Due to cool weather, vine growth and cluster development appear to be about two weeks behind normal. Of course, "normal" is a fuzzy concept too. In the wine business, it means "that which never happens." So far, however, the Sonoma County pinot noir grape crop appears similar to last year. Trouble is, Mother Nature always keeps some tricks up her sleeve, and it’s never over until it's really over.

Why are growers, grape buyers, winemakers and financial folks so concerned about crop size? Crop size has a dramatic effect on quantity, obviously, quality and price.

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