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.

"What's it going to take, spacewise, to meet the demands of the future?" Mr. Clements said. "Because it is hard to put in new tanks, with environmental and cost constraints."

All that said, growers are likely to hit sufficient returns per acre on what is under contract, brokers said.

A second big vintage could create a capacity crunch at wineries. After the huge 2012 crop sent California bulk-wine inventory soaring to more than 15 million gallons in mid-2013 from less than one-third of that a year before, but that inventory has fallen by a few million gallons in just two months, according to Mr. Clements. Two big crops likely will mask a long-term problem the North Coast faces with too much demand for too few grapes, he said.

"We're chewing through the wine," he said. "That adds weight to our confidence that consumers are buying luxury-category wine."***

In the first half of this year, U.S. wine exports, 90 percent from California, increased 6 percent by value but decreased 1.4 percent by volume from a year before, according to Global Trade Information Services figures cited by San Francisco-based Wine Institute.

The value of wine exports was $712 million in the first half. Shipment volume was 214.8 million liters, the equivalent of 23.9 million 9-liter cases.

The half-year figures suggest the value of 2013 wine exports will set a record for the fourth straight year, according to the Wine Institute. The value of 2012 exports was $1.43 billion, up 2.65 percent from 2011. Export value set records in 2010--2012.

However, wine export volume dipped nearly 5 percent in 2012. Though California had a record-sized winegrape harvest last year, it followed two weather-hampered smaller crops.

The Wine Institute, which offers its members help with exporting, has set a goal of reaching $2 billion in wine exports by 2020.***

The self-assessment and performance metrics online software by California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance now includes an international model for calculating greenhouse-gas emissions and carbon sequestration in vineyards.

The tool adapts the denitrification and decomposition (DNDC) model to winegrapes and is designed to help winegrowers reduce input costs and emissions by managing and tracking energy, water and nitrogen use, and greenhouse-gas emissions.

"More than 1,400 researchers and stakeholders worldwide use the DNDC model on over 40 agricultural crops to assess the effects of various management practices on greenhouse gas emissions," said Allison Jordan, executive director. "By incorporating the DNDC model into our program, growers can see more clearly how vineyard practices combine to reduce nitrogen applications, save money and minimize soil-related greenhouse gas emissions. Avoiding excess nitrogen benefits growers' bottom-line, contributes to wine quality and delivers better environmental outcomes."

The alliance's performance-measurement tool (metrics.sustainablewinegrowing.org) has a simplified version of the DNDC software and is design to be more user-friendly. Tracked variables linked to soil-related emissions in vineyards include row spacing, type of tillage, use and type of cover crops, amount of compost and amount of nitrogen applied as fertilizer.

In development of the tool, the alliance worked with Applied GeoSolutions, the University of California at Davis, SureHarvest, USDA Agricultural Research Service and others over several years to calibrate and validate the DNDC model for winegrapes. The project was partly funded by a three-year California Department of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant.

The California Sustainable Winegrowing Program launched in 2002, and performance metrics were tested and rolled out last year.***

[caption id="attachment_79833" align="alignright" width="315"] Winesong dignitaries were (clockwise from left) auction co-chairs Sara and Monty Preiser, chef Bradley Ogden, and Sacramento attorney Joseph III and Patricia Harbison. (image credit: Larry Wagner)[/caption]

Amid the harvest of grapes has been a bounty of charitable contributions the local wine industry has brought in recently.

Among the latest is the 29th annual Winesong and Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association Pinot Noir Celebration at Little River Inn between Mendocino and Albion on Sept. 6--7.  The live auction raised more than $500,000 for Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation. The special funding focus of the event brought in $116,000 for a new ambulance to serve the 600-square-mile coverage area.

Twenty wineries from the North Coast and beyond served more than 1,200 guests.

Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction at Chateau St. Jean on Sept. 1 raised a record $1.4 million-plus, twice the 2012 proceeds. The event was part of the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend fundraising effort, which is expected to raise more than $2.5 million, or $1 million over last year's proceeds.

Kaiser Permanente's "Fund the Future" auction lot raised $691,250, the largest for a lot in the 21 years of the event, for Sonoma Valley Education Foundation’s Summer Reading Academy, Schools of Hope by United Way of the Wine Country and Pasitos Playgroups by Community Action Partnership.

The whopper of local wine industry fundraisers is Napa Valley Vintners' Auction Napa Valley, which over Memorial Day weekend raised $16 million, topping the 2005 record of $10.5 million.***

VGS Chateau Potelle Winery, maker of small lots of cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel wines from Mt. Veeder, recently opened its new VGS Tasting House & Garden. It is located in St. Helena at the corner of Highway 29 and Dowdell Lane and open daily 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. VGS teamed with Michelin award--winning La Toque Restaurant to create gourmet food pairings.***Wine People

[caption id="attachment_79834" align="alignright" width="162"] Miguel Marroquin[/caption]

Miguel Marroquin has been named consumer sales director and tasting room manager at Spelletich Family Wine Co. in south Napa. He had been a wine consultant at V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena.•••

Send items for this column to jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or call 707-521-4256.