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'Perfect' North Coast grape harvest coming to a close

A grape harvest that has been called a perfect season is drawing to a close on California's North Coast, and growers say it could be the region's largest crop in five years.

Most grapes have been brought in from the vineyards, though a few outliers still hang on the vines, waiting for tank space to open up in wineries that have absorbed more grapes than expected over and over again since harvest began 12 weeks ago.

"What a season it's been. I don't think we could have asked for more perfect conditions this year," said Mick Schroeter, director of winemaking at Sonoma-Cutrer. "The weather was just terrific."

Sonoma County Grape Harvest 10.09.12

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The ideal growing conditions on the North Coast stood in contrast to the region's last two difficult vintages and dramatically low grape yields in Europe, South America and Australia.

In Sonoma County, the crop is likely to be at least 10 percent larger than normal, said Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission. The weather was ideal, and there weren't any major problems with pests, he said.

"As a result, the fruit has been nice and clean, good quality, and held up well," Frey said. "That should make for a good vintage."

The county's grape harvest generally weighs in at 200,000 tons on average, but this year it could swell to 220,000 to 230,000 tons, a level that hasn't been reached since 2005.

Pinot noir had among the highest yields, with an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 tons making their way out of the vineyards, compared to about 28,000 tons last year, Frey said. The price of pinot noir grapes, which cost about $2,900 a ton last year, strengthened, Frey said.

"The yields for certain varietals like pinot noir are definitely going to break records, because the crop just kept getting bigger," said John Balletto, president of Balletto Vineyards & Winery. "You have a lot of abundance, and also you have great quality. As far as being a farmer, it's a great year."

His pinot noir crop was 20 percent larger than normal, he said.


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