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Monday, June 6, 2011

2011: The next wine vintage from hell?

2010 was a tough year for the local grape growers.   Most of the summer was cool and damp meaning the grapes didn't ripen and were subject to mold as the clusters formed and the grapes grew.  Many growers did a little canopy management and cut away the leaves covering the bunches to give them lots of sun.   Then a couple blistering heat waves over-ripened and raisined many vineyards. Some growers lost their entire crop.

2009 was no picnic either as I recall one winery owner / grower saying it was a year for "better winemaking through chemistry."

2008 had lightning strikes setting fires in Mendocino County that created a smoke blanket lasting a month and actually put a smoke-tainted smell and flavor into some wines.

So how is 2011 shaping up?  It's been a wet, cool spring just like last year.  Actually, it's been wetter and cooler than last year.  For late May and early June the temperatures are ten degrees or more below the average in the Sonoma and Napa area.  It's cooler because of cloud cover and rain.  The good news is rain is off the long-range forecast and temps are supposed to run near normal.
This is expected in January,
but isn't so good in June

So what's the grape crop damage?  This is the time of year for the grape bloom.   You don't see actual pretty flowers as grapes are self-pollinating and don't have to attract insects.   Rain at the time of bloom causes "shatter" damaging potential grape clusters so they won't form properly.  It's sort of nature's way of thinning the crop.   But there is a potential for a much smaller crop than average--this will depend on where certain varieties and vineyards are in the bloom cycle.

Mildew is another issue, but the growers can control this.

The cooler weather has pushed the entire growing cycle back so assuming normal or less than normal summer temps the harvest will be late.  In California growers like an earlier harvest to avoid potential autumn rains that can really hurt a mature crop.

What are the growers hoping for now?  Sunny warm days with some wind to dry things out.  Then an average summer would be nice.   It will be about mid-summer before they know the extent of the loss.

It appears many growers are making changes in the vineyards based on last year's Vintage From Hell.  Some are now early believers in climate change--a change that could cause coastal areas to be cooler than normal as interior lands heat up.  Or it may just be our usual El Nino / La Nina cycles (a warming or cooling of the Pacific).

It's too early to say if this will be a good year or bad, of course, but for farmers it's never to early to starting worrying.   The important thing is that only the quantity of grapes is affected so far, not the quality.