Category Archives: 2011 Growing Season

Harvest Update

Here we are on the 1st of September and the only grapes that have been taken off the vines are grapes that will be used in sparkling wines. As mentioned in previous posts, sparkling wine grapes are picked earlier than any other grapes to retain the natural acidity necessary in that type of wine production.

There have been several stories about the “First day of harvest!”. Funny how these news stories spread the span of a week. There was only one winery that had the first picked grapes of the year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited that harvest started. And I very much enjoy the wines that are produced from these early picked grapes. But it’s kind of worrisome that we haven’t seen any still wine grapes be picked yet.

Luckily, we’ve been having some nice heat in the afternoons lately, but the mornings are a different story. Just two days ago the fog didn’t lift in Sonoma until the noon hour. It was supposed to be 82 degrees that day, it turned out to be only 74. Every degree counts right now. There is limited time left.

Let me preface the next paragraph with this: I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it – I am not a sensationalist.

There are several things that happen as we get further into the season. First, we get less and less sunlight everyday. If that sunlight continues to be blocked by fog in the morning, it could cause some issues. Second, as we get closer to October, the leaves on the vines start to turn colors (beautiful reds and yellows). While they are pretty to look at, if a vine doesn’t have green leaves, it’s not photosynthesizing and the grapes are no longer getting energy. Lastly, if we get early rains it could prove to be devastating for many growers / wineries. All of these things can lead to an even later crop than we already have.

Want the good news? Because despite that last section, I actually am a wine glass half full kind of guy. Late harvest means more flavor. How? The longer a grape hangs on the vine, the more complexity of flavors it develops. Sounds good. In addition, we usually see lower alcohol levels and more balanced wines in cooler, late years. All good things.

There are some vineyard practices that can speed things along. Mostly in thinning the grape clusters. That process is literally cutting clusters of grapes off the vines while they are still under-ripe. This provides more energy to the remaining clusters moving the ripening process along. In years of good crop levels, this is a great practice. In some cases this year’s crop is down 20+%. Although I’ve heard some growers say their crop level is normal. It really depends on the grape and the area, but when your crop level is lower than normal you really don’t want to thin just to speed things along. It’s a tough call.

I did talk with some winemakers this week that mentioned some of their grapes would be ready in the next 7-10 days. So, I think the bulk of the harvest is about to start. But for some growers, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon growers in the eastern facing hills, there’s a long road ahead still.

I’ll keep you updated on the 2011 harvest happenings in Sonoma and surrounding areas as this season continues to unfold.

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Filed under 2011 Growing Season, Wine, Wine Country

2011 growing season update

Phew! It’s been a while since I sat at the computer and wrote. I’ve been very busy lately, but the keyboard was calling me today.

Last weekend we experienced a lot of rain, for this time of year, and even some hail in certain areas. From what I’ve seen, this late-ish weather hasn’t affected the growing season. It’s not unusual for us to receive rain in May, but usually it’s just a light sprinkle. Some parts of wine country accumulated more than an inch of rain – pretty high for this time of year.

We’re very lucky here in Northern California. It’s usually dry from the beginning of May until late October. Basically, the same time frame as the wine grape growing season. A good thing for sure. Some other parts of the world that also grow wine grapes struggle with frost and rain and hail and many other factors all season long. Don’t let a vineyard manager or winemaker hear me say it, but we’ve got it pretty easy here in California compared to many other growing regions.

The reality is that it’s not easy to grow quality wine grapes anywhere. It take a lot of work. And hours and hours of labor. Plus it’s hard work. The vines are usually planted low to the ground meaning anytime someone has to work on the vine they are bent over causing lots of stress on their back. Most people don’t realize that each vine is touched by the human hand between 8 and 10 times during the year. From pruning to suckering and chute positioning to actually picking the grapes. A lot happens throughout the year.

Back to the update: I’ve taken a look at several vineyards and I haven’t seen any bloom (or flowering) happening. It has yet to really heat up here and if we had experienced an early heat wave the vines would be further along than they are. Then, this rain that we had last week could have been disastrous. If heavy rain or hail occur during bloom it can cause the grapes not to pollinate. Without pollination, there will be no mature grapes. No grapes, no wine. Not good.

A quick note on pollination: Wine grapes are self-pollinating. They do not need the bees to ensure maturation.

More to come this Spring / Summer. I’m just getting fired up for the season. Stay tuned…


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