Cool temperatures delay harvest in Sonoma County

  • Carlos Valle thins the grape clusters on pinot noir vines at the Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards Circle Bar Ranch, near Sonoma, on Monday, August 5, 2013. Removing excess clusters allows the vines to produce a higher quality of grapes for winemaking.

    (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Cool weather throughout Sonoma County has slowed the pace of grape ripening, bringing relief to winemakers who were rushing to prepare for an early harvest.

In warmer regions like Dry Creek and Alexander Valley, many growers are still anticipating an early harvest. But in cooler regions, winemakers are pushing back the date when they plan to pick grapes, and heading for a starting time that's closer to normal.

Temperatures across Sonoma County fell just below average in late July and early August. The lows ranged from 47 degrees to 52 degrees overnight, while the highs ranged from 77 to 80 degrees, according to Press Democrat weather records.

"It was pretty spectacular with fog burning off slowly in the hills in the Russian River," said George Rose, spokesman for J Vineyards & Winery. "Fog burning off at 11 a.m. or noon, that's the classic gloomy August. And it's perfect for grape growing."

Growers at J, typically among the first in Sonoma County to crush grapes for sparkling wine, had considered starting harvest today. Instead, they're postponing for about a week.

"There's absolutely no rush to pick the grapes," Rose said. "The slowdown is not a serious issue. It's almost a relief, because I think everyone wanted a little more time on the vine."

Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards had been scheduled to start harvest on Wednesday, but decided to postpone picking until either the weekend or Monday, said Steven Urberg, winemaker.

"This cool weather has really slowed things down," Urberg said. "I'm looking at the rate of maturity over the last week ... Usually we expect to see 2 degrees of sugar in a week at this time, and I'm seeing closer to 1 degree."

The slowdown has brought a measure of relief to the industry for a number of reasons.

"Most wineries are still bottling," said Saralee Kunde, longtime grape grower and treasurer of the Russian River Valley Winegrowers. "They're trying to get last year's wine into bottles, so that's really pushing it for a lot of wineries, especially those that are relying on a mobile bottling line."

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