As she walked the Sallyvine Vineyard in Geyserville on Wednesday morning, winemaker Alison Crowe smiled as she talked about the 2018 North Coast grape harvest, which was all about the hang time.
Mother Nature threw few curveballs their way this growing season, giving winemakers as much time as they needed to schedule their picks and allow the fruit to ripen to the optimal level before being trucked to the winery.
“The entire 2018 growing season was mild and measured, not a lot of heat spikes, just enough rain to keep things growing to create healthy vines,” said Crowe, director of winemaking for Plata Wine Partners in Napa.
Crowe’s rosy sentiment is shared by other local winemakers as the North Coast grape harvest wraps up for the most part this week. Wineries have locked in their final picks for late red varieties such as cabernet sauvignon and petite syrah — though a few may linger into next week.
Preliminary figures for this year’s regional harvest won’t be released until early in 2019. The crop last year was valued at $1.5 billion from vineyards in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties.
The 2018 crop is expected to be larger because some wineries have received 10 to 15 percent more fruit than their typical annual harvest.
However, there is concern about an oversupply of grapes given the leveling off of wine sales.
Robert McMillan, executive vice president of Silicon Valley Bank’s wine division, said earlier this month, “The question is declining (wine) consumption. … Is this a short-term or a long-term thing?”
The cabernet sauvignon picked by machines on Wednesday will go into wines that will be available in about two years, including on the shelves of Costco stores. “I think what consumers are really going to enjoy out of the 2018 harvest is the wonderful ripe flavors without super-high alcohol,” Crowe said.
Vintners said they could not have asked for better weather. The season had sufficient winter and spring rainfall into bud break, which marks the beginning of the growing cycle. A mild spring with no frost allowed those buds to grow into tiny flowers and then into fruit set with few issues.
Temperate weather during the summer — without any major heat spikes — allowed the grapes to mature for the first pick that occurred on Aug. 15. Those mild temperatures continued into the fall, which only saw one significant spate of rainy weather, which quickly passed through the area at the end of September.
“This year, it really was a winemaker’s dream. They got to consciously choose exactly what they wanted,” said Kelly MacLeod, director of operations at Hudson Vineyards in Napa.
Winemaker Carol Shelton of Santa Rosa said she was initially worried when the rainfall swept through and dumped 2 to 3 inches on some local spots. She specializes in zinfandel, a variety that is susceptible to rot after rains.
“We had some wonderful breezes afterward,” Shelton said, which quickly dried the fruit. “We just dodged a really big bullet.”
Shelton will receive her last zinfandel fruit today from a vineyard just north of Ukiah.
“There is a depth of flavor that you don’t get until you have a longer hang time,” she said of the grapes.