Cool summer has vintners fretting about late harvest

  • Hunter Farms vineyard manager Chris Bowen says these pinot noir grapes are two weeks behind in their growth due to the below average temperatures this growing season. Hunter Farms is located in a type of banana belt near Glen Ellen and typically one of the first vineyards to be picked in Sonoma County during the crush.(Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2010

The Sonoma County grape harvest is at least two weeks behind schedule, worrying growers that October rains could lead to devastating mold and crop loss.

"It's a major concern," said Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission. "The cold weather this week is certainly not helping any."

The season got off to a late start in May, when unusually cold and wet weather interrupted the blooming of many vines.

"This year has been behind from the get go," said Chris Bowen, vineyard manager of Hunter Farms south of Glen Ellen.

Bowen is often the first to begin harvesting in Sonoma County because his pinot noir grows in a region unusually warm for sparkling wine grapes.<NO1><NO> Last year, he started harvesting Aug. 10. This year, he expects he will be waiting "at least a couple weeks" later than that to begin picking.

"Things just aren't moving very fast," Bowen said. "Ideally we would have 85 to 90 degree days right now."

So far this week the high temperature has averaged 67 degrees.

On Tuesday, the high was 68, just four degrees off the record low of 64 degrees set in 1986. Forecasters say it will warm to a high of 70 today and reach 83 by Saturday.

Only a small percentage of Sonoma County grapes have begun softening and changing colors, a process known as veraison, growers reported Tuesday.

At Hunter Farms, only about 10 percent of the grapes have started to soften into the juicy sweet crop that will be harvested.

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