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Monday, September 21, 2015

Late September Harvest Update

We are well into September when the harvest should be just getting into full swing.

Yeah well, that was the old days before the California drought. With warm, dry winters and springs the grape cycle starts early and finishes early. It seems like it's earlier every year.

In Sonoma County and much of the West Coast 2012, 2013, and 2014 were record years in terms of early harvests and big yields. Grape growers just love large harvests and they got them for three years in a row. I don't recall that happening before.

2015 has had its own peculiar weather where Sonoma County was actually warmer in January than May. That cool spell hit during the grape vine's bloom. Even though the flowering is barely visible this is what turns into grapes. The long, cool bloom cut crop sizes. They are expected to be down about one-third from those record years.

But what about quality? Weather has not been ideal, but there hasn't been anything that would ruin a crop. I've seen lots of good-looking fruit and some not-so-good looking. I think "variable" will be the word for '15. Often a small crop means a high-quality crop. We'll see.

As one winemaker put it recently, "If you weren't keeping on top of what was happening in your vineyards and you weren't able to do multiple picks you might have some mediocre wine." (Multiple picks means harvesting fruit on two or more days in one vineyard to pick fruit at optimum ripeness).

So how far along is the harvest?  Way far. Some  people are done before summer is officially over! This would be a good three weeks earlier than what used to be considered normal. If we hadn't had that cool May that delayed the growing cycle would we have been done by Labor Day? Hard to even consider that.

Another thing that's interesting is there is normally a kind of progression to what grapes are picked when. That is, you would bring in all of the Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir then maybe get a break for the rest of the reds with Cabernet coming in last (sometime in October). In the last couple years I've heard people talk of the variability in that cycle where maybe some Cab is coming in before the Pinot is even started, for instance.

What's all this mean for the wine drinker? Lots of quantity for the last three years is good for the consumer. Quality overall seems good in these years. Too early to tell on '15.