Suspicions in the industry that the 2013 North Coast winegrape crop would be sizable are gaining greater weight as many of the grapes for sparkling wine are past that early round of harvest are in the winery, picking white wine grapes is under way and the first red wine grapes are approaching ripeness.
"Generally, with what we've seen of the crop so far, I think it will be a big crop," said Glenn Proctor, partner of Ciatti Co., a San Rafael-based major broker of grapes, wine and concentrate. One local sparkling-wine house just finished with harvest told him early last week that vineyard yield was "above average," and another told him tonnage was up to 10 percent above the winery's estimates. Yet without knowing if the estimate was too high, low, readjusted repeatedly or in line with local averages, such statements can be hard to evaluate, he said.
[caption id="attachment_79828" align="alignright" width="454"] Russian River Valley pinot noir grapes on Sept. 2; Yountville cabernet sauvignon grapes on Sept. 6 (image credits: Alicia Kump and Mike Needham, Turrentine Brokerage)[/caption]
Picking of grapes at lower sugar levels for sparkling wine started in late July in Napa County and early August in Sonoma County. Napa Valley pinot noir had above-average tonnage, and the North Coast crop overall is looking sizable, according to Novato-based Turrentine Brokerage.
Three-quarters of the sauvignon blanc crop had been picked by last week, with above-average tonnage from Napa and Lake counties and average to above average from Sonoma County, according to Turrentine.
[caption id="attachment_79829" align="alignright" width="334"]
Vintner Greg La Follette plays bagpipes as interim winemaker Michael Wettle watches last bin of pinot noir emptied into a fermenter at La Follette Wines' Sebastopol winery in early September. (image credit: La Follette Wines)[/caption]
Reds are still a couple of weeks away from being ready to start picking, and picking of chardonnay for still wine started in early September. Hillside and shallow-soil cabernet sauvignon is just starting to come into wineries.
After an early, dry spring, vine development accelerated, paused during June cooling then accelerated with 100-degree temperatures in early July, only to slow with cool days in late August. A few hot days in early September kick-started development again. This start-stop development is helpful for grape flavor development, and the hot days have helped dry out clusters suffering from mildew and mold earlier, brokers said.
Hunches are ripening about the heft of grape bunches as growers call brokers to find buyers for tonnage beyond the maximum in purchase contracts. And the phone is ringing a lot more than at this stage during the harvest of the record-sized 2012 crop. Last year, many wineries were buying much of the considerable excess tons their contracted growers brought in and paying close to market prices for the overage, because sales of higher-end wine were strong, brokers said.
[caption id="attachment_79830" align="alignleft" width="245"] The must cap on early ripened zinfandel grapes get punched down at Mauritson Family Winery on Sept. 8. (image credit: Mauritson Family Winery)[/caption]
This year, wine sales continue to be robust. But a number of wineries are sticking to their tonnage caps, and some growers are looking for homes for the king grapes of Napa and Sonoma counties, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, respectively. Very recently, overage pricing is half or than half the market price, while grower may get market pricing for new contracts. It's all about available space in tanks and barrels, according to Brian Clements, vice president of Turrentine.