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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

2010 grape harvest -- mid-September update

California's coastal areas have dealt with cool, damp weather much of the summer.   In Sonoma County and nearby areas after a short, but dramatic, heat wave the weather has turned ideal for the past couple weeks.

Due to the cool summer many vineyard people did some canopy management, that is they removed leaves from the vines to help expose the grape clusters to the sun to help prevent rot.   When the heat came many grapes raisined from the exposure and are now useless.  It's estimated 10% of the crop was lost.

The weird weather isn't that weird though.  I've lived in Sonoma County for thirty harvests.  The one constant is the growers, like any farmer, will sound pessimistic until the grapes are in.   Once the juice is made you'll then hear the folks whose livelihood rests on selling wine say what a great vintage it was.   Or at least by the time the wines get to market in a couple years they'll hope you forget their troubles.

Even in the much talked about bad years like '88, '89, '98, '99, '00 you can't make blanket statements about quality (good or bad).  Sometimes a certain variety gets affected.  For instance rain can really damage Chardonnay and Pinot but not Cabernet so much.  But Cab gets picked much later than Chard or Pinot so if anything bad happens in October those earlier ripening grapes may already be in, but the Cab is still hanging on the vines.  

This year the cool damp weather seems to mostly affect the cooler growing areas such as Russian River Valley.

Oh yeah, there's a chance of rain in the forecast for this coming weekend.

The cool summer delayed the start of harvest by about three weeks.  Some wineries are underway now, but most in the cooler growing areas are not.  As of Sept 10th only about 1% of the grapes have been picked!  Many are expecting a compressed harvest.  That is, rather than having two or more months for all the grapes to come in they could be bringing in the bulk of the grapes in less than a month's time. 

Some wineries appear to be hiring addition crush help for the expected rush.  It's tough on the crew as it can mean working for weeks without a day off.   You work when mother nature says she's ready!