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Mendocino Reports High Quality (if Uneven) Harvest

Two recent storms passed through without causing any major issues with wine grapes

by Andrew Adams
testa vineyards
Testa Vineyards harvested 9 tons of Grenache, Charbono, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah today.
Ukiah, Calif.—Like other parts of California, Mendocino County appears to have enjoyed an early harvest with mild weather that produced grapes of high quality.

Most of the county’s vineyards have been picked, and growers said two storms that came through about a week apart triggered little to no mold issues.

Zac Robinson, co-owner of Husch Vineyards and president of the Mendocino WineGrowers Inc., said harvest got off to a busy and early start, but then cooler weather slowed ripening. The result is that ripening has been uneven between vineyards and varieties. “What’s proven to be a little oddball is there are guys out there in the middle of their Chardonnay harvest,” he said.

In addition to uneven ripening, Robinson said some vineyards—and Zinfandel in particular—have struggled to reach their average Brix levels. “What’s unusual at this point is the flavors are there but people are picking grapes at about 2° Brix below normal.”

He said at Husch they picked some Zinfandel at 22.5° Brix. “At a certain point you say, let’s just go for it and grab it,” Robinson said.

The mild weather means the grapes aren’t suffering from the extended hangtime. “It’s still relatively pristine fruit, despite its extra age,” he said.
Pinot harvest mostly done
Joe Webb is the winemaker at Foursight Wines in Boonville, Calif., and the current board president of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association. He said Anderson Valley is all picked with the fruit coming in about one week early.

Webb said he was topping up barrels of 2013 Pinot Noir when contacted by Wines & Vines this afternoon. He said he pressed the last of his Pinot lots last week and currently has some whites finishing fermentation in barrels. Foursight processed about 15 tons of Pinot Noir and about 3.5 tons of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, Webb said.

He said there may have been “a little more rejected fruit on the sorting table,” but all his lots fermented to dryness and are undergoing malolactic fermentation just fine. “I don’t see any quality issues so far,” he said.

Webb said a few wineries struggled with the logistics of having sufficient tank space with multiple vineyards and varieties reaching maturity around the same time. “When harvest is really early or really late, things just want to ripen at once,” he said.

At Foursight, Webb said the winery is usually done with its Pinots when it moves on to white wines. A lot of Semillon that experienced some shatter during a spring storm ended up being 20% lighter and ripening earlier than expected when Webb was still fermenting reds.

‘Easiest harvest ever’
Maria Martinson, winemaker and part owner of Testa Vineyards in Calpella, Calif., said she harvested 9 tons of Grenache, Charbono, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah on Monday and everything looked excellent. “The fruit is just beautiful, just absolutely gorgeous,” she said.

She said it’s been an early harvest but that has just been an additional benefit of what has been an uneventful harvest that’s produced good fruit. “This has just been the easiest harvest ever,” she said.

Martinson said she expects to be done with picking in the next two weeks. Testa Vineyards owns 45 acres of vines, which they dry farm. They’re waiting for a winery client to call a pick on the remaining Cabernet Sauvignon, but she said the fruit looks great and can stay on the vine a little longer. Yields have been average to above average.

Some challenges for dry farming
At Brown Family Wines, owner Scott Brown said his Merlot yield came in 40% less than normal and the grapes he was able to harvest were at 27° Brix. He attributed the low yields to the dry winter that triggered an early start to the growing season. Parts of his Merlot block suffered frost damage, and he thinks the fact he dry farms limited yields as well. He said the Merlot also could have been picked two weeks earlier, when it was at 24° Brix, but the winery who purchased it didn’t have room to receive it.

Brown owns 125 acres, but only 20 of those acres are planted to Merlot and Cabernet. He said his Cabernet handled the early harvest and produced yields of about 2 tons per acre, which is typical for the 38-year-old vines. “The fruit was pretty good: all thick-skinned fruit, the rain didn’t do any harm and didn’t affect Brix,” he said.

He said he probably should have realized the dry winter could cause problems for his dry-farmed ranch. While he has the vines set up for irrigation, Brown said he prefers dry farming because it produces fruit with better flavors. If 2014 has a normal level of rainfall, Brown would like to keep dry farming; but if it’s another dry winter and spring, he’s willing to irrigate.

A few other Merlot growers also said they were down 30% this year, but Brown added that another told him he was 30% up over 2012.

Brown sold all of his Merlot crop this year, but he kept the Cabernet to make wine. He made about 2,000 cases of wine in 2012 but likely will only make about 500 cases this year because he’s constrained by a small winery. He said he planted 2 acres of Zinfandel and Cabernet this year but is planning to plant an additional 45 acres of vines.

Edward Wallo, owner of Yorkville Cellars in Yo rkville, Calif., said he started picking grapes Sept. 14, which is the second earliest start date he’s recorded in 21 vintages at the winery. Yorkville Cellars specializes in Bordeaux varieties grown on the estate’s 30 acres of vines.

Yields appear to be in the winery’s typical range of 3-4 tons per acre, and Wallo said he’s very happy with how the vintage has proceeded so far. He said this year has provided a better growing season than 2012, and it appears that it will offer up the rare combination of good yields and good quality. “We’re happy with both the quality and quantity for a change,” he said.

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