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Wine Grape Harvest Picks Up in Sonoma County

Alexander Valley still ahead of normal, grape quality reported as excellent

by Andrew Adams
munselle vineyard merlot
Bins of Merlot from Munselle vineyard (above) marked the start of harvest at Jordan Vineyard & Winery in Sonoma County, Calif., on Sept. 12.
Sonoma, Calif.—Growers and winemakers throughout Sonoma County report that the phenomenal vintage of 2012 could well be matched by 2013.

Grapes appear to be enjoying uniform ripening, and the quality of the fruit arriving at wineries has been excellent. “Everything is amazing,” said Greg Miller, director of wine at Jordan Vineyard & Winery in Healdsburg, Calif. “It’s tough to think that anything could come close to last year.”

He said the winery received its first bins of Merlot on Sept. 12. The fruit was so good, he said, that when it hit conveyors on the crush pad, the sorting crew could have taken a coffee break. “Quality-wise it’s excellent, so we’re pretty excited,” he said.

Miller said that last week he expected the winery, which owns more than 100 acres of estate vineyards and sources grapes from other locations in Alexander Valley, to have completed its Chardonnay harvest by the weekend and then proceed through other red varieties before harvest wraps up with Petit Verdot in two to three weeks.

The first Chardonnay grapes arrived Sept. 6, which is about 10 days earlier than normal because of the warm winter and spring. Miller said the initial expectation was that harvest would be early and big. Rain and the resulting humidity in June, however, required extensive vineyard thinning that brought yields closer to normal.

Sonoma County’s record 2012 crop of more than 267,000 tons was a 68% increase over the cool and rainy vintage of 2011, according to the county crop report. Grapes harvested in Sonoma in 2012 were valued at nearly $600 million.

Miller said this vintage has been interesting because when grapes hit certain Brix levels, which have typically indicated that lot is ready for picking, the flavors haven’t necessarily been there. That means some lots have had to stay on the vine a bit longer than normal. “The trick now is to not lose acidity,” he said.

Varying AVAs
Steve Sangiacomo, owner and president of Sangiacomo Family Vineyards, which owns 1,600 acres in the Carneros, Sonoma Coast and Sonoma Valley AVAs, said he has started picking Pinot Noir for still wine. “Everything looks great so far; it’s been ideal conditions,” he said. Yields have been about 10%-15% above average.

Slightly cooler temperatures after the short heat wave earlier this month helped ensure balanced ripening and allow phenolic maturity to catch up with Brix levels.

Sangiacomo said finding enough workers to pick grapes has not been an issue. Several growers in the county went with machine harvesting in 2012, and they appear to be doing the same this harvest, lessening the demand on the available worker pool. “We’re seeing it’s not as big of an issue,” he said.

He said he contracts with a separate company for mechanized harvesting on a portion of his vineyards.

Association input
Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers, said Alexander Valley was a couple weeks ahead of normal, but grapes in the county’s other AVAs are maturing at a more typical pace. She said overall about 10%-20% of the county’s vineyards had been harvested. “Quality seems excellent so far: no sunburn or botrytis,” she said.

Kruse said the only issue she has heard of is that some wineries can’t free up fermentation tanks.  “We are dealing with a few wineries starting to push back waiting to turn their tanks,” she said.

Out on the Sonoma Coast in the Fort Ross Seaview AVA, Daniel Schoenfeld, winemaker and co-owner of Wild Hog Vineyard, said he wrapped his Pinot Noir harvest last week and expects to bring in his Zinfandel and Syrah grapes soon. He said his 3.5 acres of Pinot vines yielded 12 tons, which is “remarkable” for his vineyard. “The other remarkable part is it was gorgeous fruit.”

He said 2012 provided a record haul of 11 tons, so he was surprised to see the vines produce another bumper load this year. While the clusters are large, he said the grapes didn’t appear to be excessively juicy when he processed them at the winery.

Schoenfeld, who opened his winery in 1990, said he’s never seen two large harvests back to back. He thought a dry January may have had some effect but admitted he just doesn’t know. “This was two big years in a row. What’s going on?”

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