In Carneros, Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards plans to begin its harvest for sparkling wine next week, about 10 to 12 days earlier than usual, winemaker Steven Urberg said. That's putting pressure on winery staff this week to bottle about 40,000 gallons of the 2012 vintage before this year's grapes start to arrive, he said.

"We may end up harvesting and hand bottling at the same time," Urberg said. "For us, it will be difficult because we use the same crew for harvesting that we do for bottling. There will not be a dull moment around here."

Cooperative weather

Growers have faced a few minor weather issues but none that have caused serious problems, they said. Temperatures topped 100 in late June, causing sunburn on some of the grapes, but that impacted only about 1 in 1,000 clusters, said George Rose, spokesman for J Vineyards & Winery.

"The grapes are just looking fantastic," Rose said. "We got over that little hiccup in June with the heat, and the weather has just settled in perfectly. If that's the only thing that happens during this harvest, then that's extraordinary. I'm knocking on wood."

Those hot days sped up the ripening process, setting the clock ahead for some growers who typically begin picking grapes for still wine on or a few weeks after Labor Day.

J Vineyards & Winery will begin picking chardonnay and pinot noir about two weeks earlier than normal, Rose said.

In recent weeks the weather cooled, slowing the pace of ripening in the Russian River Valley, said John Balletto, president of Balletto Vineyards & Winery.

"We thought we'd be ahead but, with things cooling down, I think we're going to be back to normal," Balletto said.

Still wines weeks away

Harvest for grapes used in still wines like chardonnay and pinot noir is still weeks away.

Dry Creek Vineyard in Healdsburg may begin picking sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc grapes in the last week of August, said winemaker Tim Bell.

"The last several years we haven't started harvest before Labor Day, so, to me, that bodes well," Bell said. "I'm feeling pretty optimistic right now. This is what I like, as opposed to 2010 and 2011, when we started a little behind."

Growers wound up with painfully small crops for both of those years.

Mildew became an issue in some growers' vineyards, although Balletto hasn't seen that himself, he said.

With the vineyard workforce shrinking, finding qualified crews could become an issue for growers who haven't lined up their labor force.

"It's going to be hard for everyone to fill their crews, for sure," Balletto said. "There will be no extra labor at all."

You can reach Staff Writer Cathy Bussewitz at 521-5276 or On Twitter @cbussewitz.

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