Harvest hits the halfway point in Sonoma County (w/video)
Thanks to continued mild weather, the North Coast grape harvest remains ahead of schedule and some winemakers may even finish picking their fruit by the beginning of October, according to growers and analysts.
About half of Sonoma County’s crop has already been harvested, said Karissa Kruse, president of Sonoma County Winegrowers, an industry trade group. The early harvest is on track to yield an average-size crop, nowhere close to 2013’s record-breaking crush when Sonoma County growers harvested 271,000 tons of grapes with a value totaling $605 million.
“We could be done in two weeks,” said Nova Perrill, assistant winemaker at Dry Creek Vineyard in Healdsburg. “It’s probably the most condensed harvest in my 10 years as a professional winemaker.”
The winery is expected to take in 1,700 tons of grapes from its vineyards in the Dry Creek and Russian River valleys, Perrill said, including fruit that will be featured in an incredibly aromatic sauvignon blanc.
Dry Creek’s experience is similar to other wineries around the region as harvest is running two to four weeks earlier than usual for some varietals. Typically, the main North Coast grape harvest runs from Labor Day to the first of November, though grapes used for sparkling wines are picked in August.
This year, the North Coast harvest kicked off July 29 at Mumm Napa, the Napa Valley winery’s earliest start in a decade.
Growers say the early harvest is a plus because it will allow them get their grapes out of the vineyards before the arrival of the rainy season, which exposes grapes to the threat of rot. Overnight showers, forecast to drop a tenth of an inch of rain on Santa Rosa on Wednesday night and this morning, are expected to give way to warm days over the next week, allowing vineyards to quickly dry out from the brief storm. But weather remains an unpredictable factor that will influence the size and quality of the 2014 vintage.
“Things can turn on a dime, depending on Mother Nature,” Kruse said.
With every passing day, growers are hauling in grapes and placing them into the safety of winery tanks. Gloria Ferrer Winery in Sonoma, which specializes in sparkling wine, picked the remaining of its 2,300-ton crop Friday with the last of its chardonnay grapes, said Steven Urberg, vineyard manager. The yield was close to what winery officials had estimated.
He called this year’s harvest “the earliest in recent memory” and “textbook beautifully average.”
Growers noted that they caught a break this year from the weather. Late winter rains, which helped provide moisture prior to bud blooming, were followed by an absence of prolonged heat spikes this summer.
“The weather has been perfect,” Urberg said.
But yields in Sonoma County have varied widely from last year, depending on the location of the vineyard, according a report by Turrentine Brokerage, a Novato wine broker. Some growers are finding less fruit than they expected, especially if they did not water or fertilize sufficiently.
Twenty percent of Sonoma County’s pinot noir crop has been picked, with more clusters than last year though with smaller berries. About 5 percent of the chardonnay vineyards in cooler areas such as the Dry Creek and Russian River valleys have been harvested. Wineries also have scheduled merlot and other red blends to be picked, which is two to three weeks earlier than last year.