Winegrape harvest could be biggest in three years

More than half the 2012 North Coast winegrape crop is off the vine and most of the rest is expected to be arriving at wineries by early November. 

[caption id="attachment_62908" align="alignright" width="360"] Autumn is fast approaching at Foursight Wines' Charles Vineyard in the Anderson Valley winegrowing region of Mendocino County.[/caption]

With warm to hot days in August and September accelerating maturation of grapes, many North Coast growers and wineries were surprised to find the crops were much bigger than expected around the beginning of the season, according to Glenn Proctor, partner of San Rafael-based winegrape and wine brokerage Ciatti Co.

"Napa and Sonoma (counties) appear to be, compared with others statewide, up the most relative to 2011," Mr. Proctor said. "I wouldn't be surprised if tonnage were 15 percent to 20 percent more than expected."

In Sonoma County, harvest has passed the half-way point, and most of the rest will come off the vine by the end of this month, with a few vineyards remaining for picking in early November, according to Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission.

"Right now, it's going at a rapid pace," he said. "Now it's about tank space and barrel capacity than weather."

Crop-size estimates in Sonoma County are being revised upward, pointing to, perhaps, more than 200,000 tons being harvested for the first time since 2009, Mr. Frey noted. Statewide, the 2012 winegrape crop was estimated to be 10 percent larger than that of 2011, or 3.7 million tons.

As the inventory of North Coast bulk wine dwindled and early-season forecasts suggested an average or below-average crop size, prices for grapes were higher than 2011. As tonnage coming off the vine exceeded expectations and amounts wineries were under contract to purchase, a number of wineries have been interested in buying more fruit, but the prices offered for that overage has varied widely from a slight to a significant discount, according to Mr. Frey.

That a number of wineries have been willing to buy the excess tonnage is positive, according to Mr. Proctor.

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