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Harvest heats up

  • Juana Paniagua removes leaves and other debris from just picked merlot grapes at Matanzas Creek Winery on Monday morning.

The merlot grapes had come from across the valley, picked early Monday on green slopes of vines and clustered oak trees.

Later that morning workers and stainless steel machines removed stems and sorted out the bad fruit at Matanzas Creek Winery in Bennett Valley southeast of Santa Rosa. Then the merlot was piped to a large steel tank, nearby others containing chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and other varietals that will make up the vintages of 2009.

?We should have everything in within three weeks,? said Alex Reble, an assistant winemaker for the winery owned by Jackson Family Wines. To date, he said, ?we?re having a successful harvest.?

The North Coast harvest enters its eighth week after a weekend of triple-digit heat. But winemakers and grape growers say the hot weather was short-lived and did little more than give grapes an extra push toward maturity.

?I don?t think it was a hindrance at all,? said Jim Murphy, a vineyard owner in Alexander Valley.

The high temperatures accelerated harvest for a few days, but this week?s cooler weather likely will allow time for growers and wineries to play catch up.

The heat ?puts a strain on the wineries to get all the fruit in in a timely fashion,? said Murphy. ?But they?re pretty good at finding a way to accommodate all the growers.?

The harvest is about 25 to 30 percent complete, but things will pick up substantially this week as the bulk of the chardonnay crop starts rolling in, said Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Wine Grape Commission.

The harvest remains about two weeks behind last year?s schedule, largely because the summer wasn?t as hot as last year and the crop is bigger. The larger the crop, the longer it takes the vines to ripen the fruit, Frey said.

White grapes like sauvignon blanc and chardonnay are ripening significantly faster than the thicker-skinned reds like cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel, Frey said.


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