North Coast winegrape harvest could be biggest in seven years

A North Coast winegrape season that was not too hot, too cold or too wet combined with steady demand for grapes and wine following two short crops led to a rare conjunction in recent years, possibly the most tonnage since the 2005 peak year and a number of wineries eager to find room to buy as much as they could.

[caption id="attachment_64591" align="alignleft" width="360"] Trefethen Vineyards workers harvest chardonnay grapes before dawn. (photo credit: Jon Ruel, Trefethen Vineyards)[/caption]

"The quantity was there, and it had the quality and it had the price and it had the demand," said Brian Clements, partner of San Rafael-based Turrentine Brokerage, which has been busy trying to match growers with extra tons with wineries with enough tank and barrel space.

The first official tally of tonnage and grape pricing won't be known until the state releases preliminary figures in early February.

At this point, pinot noir tonnage in Sonoma and Mendocino counties appears to have been well above average, thanks to 14 percent nonbearing acreage two years ago coming into full production, and chardonnay tonnage from Sonoma and Napa counties appears to also be above average, according to Mr. Clements. Cabernet sauvignon tonnage is above grower averages but likely not as high as in 2005. Sauvignon blanc from Sonoma County had average yields, but some yields were below average in Lake County.

In Napa County, the expectation for 2012 tonnage was 30 percent above growers' multiyear averages until grapes for sparkling wine started coming off vines a month and a half ago, and now the typical outlook is between a grower's average and plus 10 percent, according to Jennifer Putnam, executive director of trade group Napa Valley Grapegrowers.

"The quality is great, yields are really good, there was not much in the way of pest and disease pressures, and relationships (between grower and winery) went smoothly," she said. "There's a really buoyant feeling in Napa Valley."

Average yield from feedback the association has received is about four tons an acre, ranging from 2.5 an acre on hillsides to as many as seven tons an acre in a few places by the Napa River, she said.

If the average yield estimate bears fruit, it would amount to about 174,000 tons, based on nearly 43,600 bearing acres of vines reported to the Napa County Agricultural Commissioner last year. That would put it between the sizable 2006 crop of nearly 153,000 tons, yielding 3.6 tons per acre, and the huge 2005 crop of 181,000 tons, yielding 4.3 tons an acre, according to the county crop report.


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