North Coast winemakers pleased with quality, size of harvest

Early to start, the 2013 North Coast winegrape season is heading toward largely an early finish this month and is sizing up to be above the average for the past several years, in some cases rivaling last year's record crop.

[caption id="attachment_81446" align="alignleft" width="360"] Workers empty tubs of cabernet sauvignon grapes at Trefethen Family Vineyards' Hillspring Vineyard in Napa Valley's Oak Knoll district on Oct. 9.[/caption]

Picking is into the home stretch in Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties, though in a pause in Mendocino County, according to growers. Two back-to-back big harvests are prompting a number of winemakers to consider viticultural plans to recharge grape vitality as vines show signs of deficiencies in nutrients such as potassium.

Based on the number of days this season warm enough to spur vine activity -- called degree-days -- the tally through September at Trefethen Vineyards' main ranch in the Oak Knoll winegrowing region of central Napa Valley has been cumulatively warmer than the pace through October in the past six years, according to Jon Ruel, president of the winery and the board of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers trade group.

That would suggest the season is a month ahead of what's typical, but development of phenolics and other quality aspects of the grapes suggests the season is two weeks ahead, he said. Trefethen started picking chardonnay in early September for the first time in several years and is well into picking cabernet sauvignon, Napa Valley's dominant variety.

"It is a great year but stressful with so many decisions on when grapes are ready to pick and the tank you want to put them in is full," Mr. Ruel said. "It’s certainly a lot more fun when the sun is shining and wines taste great."

Harvest was nearly 90 percent complete in Sonoma County and is trending toward a finish in the third full week of this month, according to Karissa Kruse, president of Sonoma County Winegrowers.

Sonoma Valley grower Steve Sangiacomo, also a board member of Sonoma County Winegrowers, said he is finishing harvest of chardonnay and pinot noir from Los Carneros, Sonoma Valley and the Petaluma Gap area of Sonoma Coast this week. At a projected 4,500 tons crushed, the volume is on par with that of last year, he said.

"It was kind of nerve-wracking to have to dodge two rain events, but we’re very fortunate," Mr. Sangiacamo said. "We got lots of dry winds afterward, and the vines got dry within 24 hours."

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