Weather, economy bring flood of bad news; best to be said about 2010 is it's almost over

  • Wine makers Mike Draxton, left and Randy Meyer watch as a load of cabernet is loaded for crushing, Friday Oct. 15, 2010 in Geyserville. Draxton is crushing tons of grapes from growers having a difficult time selling their crop during the continued tough economy. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2010

The abysmal grape growing season of 2010 is nearly complete, with more than half of Sonoma County's wine grapes now harvested.

Only a few weeks remain in what has been one of the most challenging years on record for vineyard managers who watched helplessly as the economy gutted grape prices, a foggy summer spawned an outbreak of destructive mold, and a sizzling hot fall turned many of the surviving grapes into raisins.

The unusual weather might result in one of the smallest Sonoma County grape harvests in 10 years, according to growers.

Some are predicting this year's crop could be 20 percent smaller than normal, placing the total output at about 160,000 tons. The last time the county's total crop production weighed less than that was in 1999 -- and the county had fewer vineyards in production then.

With grapes now selling at prices nearly 70 percent cheaper than a few years ago, it is also likely that the total value of this year's harvest will be far less than last year's $465 million crop.

"With Mother Nature and the economy, it's been a double whammy," said Harry Black, vineyard manager for Rancho Miguel in the Alexander Valley.

When asked if there was any positive news about this year's harvest, Black laughed.

"Well, it's almost over," he said.

But Black and others are finding solace where they can.

The recent heat waves helped speed the maturation of grapes, which were three to four weeks behind because of the unusually cool, damp summer. Now growers say the grapes are only about a week behind, improving their chances of harvesting their crops before the rainy season arrives.

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