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Tight Harvest Window in Amador, Calaveras Counties

Varieties reached ripeness in tandem, prompting rush to bring in wine grapes

by Paul Franson
Andis Wines began harvest Aug. 23 with Sauvignon Blanc and quickly followed that with Semillon and Chenin Blanc.
Sutter Creek, Calif.—Like other parts of California, wineries in the Sierra Foothills report an excellent harvest this year, but one with challenges.

Ann Kraemer at Yorba Wines and Shake Ridge Vineyards in Sutter Creek, Calif., in Amador County reports that the harvest was “fast and furious.”

“Harvest started a week early for us, which we expected after the early spring and warm summer. The difference from previous seasons was that once harvest started, it rolled right on through. Our 12 varieties are harvested for our own brand Yorba and 22 other winemakers, all having quite different ‘styles’ and therefore harvest criteria. Our typical harvest stretches over eight to 10 weeks; the 2013 vintage sped by in just over 6 weeks, starting with Viognier and red Rhone varietals. It was a great year to co-ferment the Rhone blends, as they were close enough on track to harvest together.”

Kraemer added that the Tempranillo’s tannins settled down earlier than normal, whereas the acidity stayed high in most all of the varieties, causing them to push the Barbera harvest back later than normal. “Though our Zinfandel blocks are quite varied in site aspect and microclimates, they also had a very tight harvest ‘window,’ allowing us to co-ferment various lots.”

She said that the winemakers’ initial reports of quality are very promising—“beautiful tannin development, great fruit concentration and pretty aromatics. The lower rainfall this spring resulted in less vine vigor and overall smaller berry size, hence the better tannins and color development. However, the cluster numbers were higher than normal, so we still had to make several cluster-thinning passes to hold the crop load down for our quality goals.”

Like others, she noted the unexpected rain. “ We did have one brush with nature: Sept. 21 brought us 1.3 inches of rain, but the storm passed by very quickly and the grapes dried quickly as well, so the threat of rot was avoided.”

Early maturation
Ben Zeitman, owner of Amador Foothill Winery in Plymouth said that most varieties matured a bit early. “Yields were up 17% over last year, even with conservative pruning in February and crop thinning in August. All of our reds exhibited outstanding dark color.”

Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon both matured at the same time, allowing Zeitman to co-ferment this year at its normal 75:25 ratio. 

He fermented 4 tons of Aglianico in bins. “With a couple days of cold soaking and vigorous punch downs twice daily for a week, the resulting pressed wine shows the most intense flavors and color we have ever seen from our vineyard.”

Everything was picked, fermented and pressed by Oct. 28 except a couple tons of Semillon for late-harvest wine.

At Andis Wines in Plymouth, winemaker Mark McKenna said that 2013 was a short harvest: “We brought in Sauvignon Blanc on Aug. 23 and 27, followed very quickly by Semillon and Chenin Blanc. It is not entirely unusual to start picking whites in August. What is odd is what happened next, which, in short, was everything else came in. By Oct. 1, we were 92% done with picking even though we were normally very busy in October.”

McKenna says a local Zinfandel grower of 41 years told him this year he picked 23 days earlier than ever before.

“None of the usual rules applied to order of picking either. Varieties that normally get ripe last were coming off the vine first, and all of it was sweet, sweet, sweet,” he said. “We decided: ‘Pick it all. Right now. As fast as you can!’ Flavors were good, but sugars were simply rising too fast and challenging our ability to achieve optimum balance in the 2013 reds.”

A significant but short (about 0.5 inches) rainstorm Sept. 21 came at a good time. “The influx of water slowed sugar accumulation and gave the plants a nice drink to help them finish up the season strong.”

McKenna added, “Quality on the whites is superb; the reds promise to be bigger than average this year, and they all seem to be quite fruit driven—lots of pretty flavors when things come of the vine early. Slightly higher alcohols might one of the benchmarks of 2013.”

Frost effects
Bill Easton at Easton/Terre Rouge, located in Fiddletown in the Shenandoah Valley, said that damage from a May 23 frost reduced yields in his coldest vineyard sites. Otherwise, it was a dry season with most significant rain last winter. He reported 4 inches of snowfall Feb. 24, and eight small storms dropped less than 1 inch of rain after February.

Easton reports that because of drier conditions, cluster morphology was smaller. But discounting frost sites, set was very even, with very even ripening, even on Zinfandel. Natural acidity was a bit below normal.

He said, “Quality was high from a color and flavor standpoint; yields were above average in most cases, and fruit clean without any disease issues. Mites were an issue in some vineyards due to water stress.”

He added, “Gophers, voles, and ground squirrels had a wonderful year.”

Calaveras County
Ryan Teeter makes wines for his La Folia Winery in Murphys, Calif., and for Lavender Ridge Vineyard and Copper Mine. “It was an intense year. It started early and a heavy rain in the middle extended the harvest.”

It was also hurry up and wait, however. “We’d get 30 or 40 tons one day and nothing for the rest of the week,” Teeter said.

He found the yield per ton low. “The grapes were maybe 10 % smaller than usual.”

He added that the quality seems excellent. “Last year was touted as an exceptional year, but I think this year may be even better. The wines are drinkable right out of the press!”


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