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North Coast grape harvest accelerates

  • Ignacio Martinez watches Chardonnay grapes unload at Gallo of Sonoma Winery, in Healdsburg, on Monday, September 16, 2013.
    (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Day and night, trucks filled with mounds of sun-ripened grapes are pouring into wineries across the North Coast as harvest accelerates to a frenzy.

This year's crop is both unusually early and large, growers say, straining wineries' capacity to process the incoming fruit.

"Everything statewide is ready all at once," said Lise Asimont, director of grower relations at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville. "Every variety that we are concerned with in Sonoma County is being picked or scheduled to be picked. Russian River pinot, Russian River chardonnay, Alexander Valley cab, Dry Creek zinfandel — we're picking them all this week."

In Sonoma County, about 30 to 35 percent of the crop has been harvested, depending on the location and varietal, said Karissa Kruse, president of Sonoma County Winegrowers.

The North Coast harvest got off to an unusually early start this year on Aug. 1, when the first grapes came in from Napa for sparkling wine. Growers and vintners will be harvesting at a fast and furious pace for the next four to six weeks, hoping to bring in their precious fruit before the fall rains arrive.

Some parts of the county are running three weeks early, while parts of the Russian River are two weeks ahead of schedule, Kruse said.

"You're getting pinot noir and chardonnay and sauvignon blanc and merlot all coming in at the same time, which is pretty atypical," she said. "Things are coming in definitely above average in terms of quantity."

Last year, growers pulled in $1.4 billion worth of grapes on the North Coast, surpassing the record of $1.1 billion in 2005. The Sonoma County crop was worth an estimated $583 million, up 68 percent from the previous year.

This year's crop is expected to be larger than average, but it's not yet expected to top the giant crop that was picked in 2012, when a record 266,000 tons of grapes were harvested in Sonoma County.

Some wineries still have juice in their tanks and barrels from last year's massive harvest, inhibiting their ability to accept the flood of fruit destined for this year's vintage.


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