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Early Grape Harvest Brings Good Quality

Sierra Foothills growers and vintners happy with 2013 vintage

by Paul Franson
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A vineyard at Boeger Winery in Placerville, Calif. Harvest came early in the Sierra Foothills..

Placerville, Calif.—Growers and winemakers in the counties that comprise the Sierra Foothills region of California reported a good crop this season with few problems during the ripening period and excellent quality at harvest.

Wines & Vines reported on Amador and Calaveras counties on Nov. 12, 2013 (Tight Harvest Window in Amador, Calaveras Counties) and will cover El Dorado, Nevada and Placer in this harvest report.

All of the five counties are included in California grape district 10, which also includes Tulomne and Mariposa. According to the Wines & Vines Online Marketing System the district is home to 220 wineries, with 79 of those in El Dorado County. Tulomne and Mariposa are home to only 11 wineries.

Last year district 10 produced a total of 23,373 tons of wine grapes with white varieties making up 2,681 tons of the total, according to the state grape report. Zinfandel accounted for 41% of all the wine grapes produced in the district.

El Dorado County
Winemakers in El Dorado County agreed that it was an excellent year, but it had a condensed harvest. “We usually start about the second week of September and go to the end of October, but this year we were done by the first week of October,” said winemaker and owner Susan Marks of Cedarville Vineyard in Fair Play, Calif. “It was a cold winter. We got a lot of freezing, but the vines remained dormant and weren’t damaged,” she added.

Maggie Bush of Madroña Vineyards in Camino, Calif., which grows at 3,000 feet elevation, agreed that the harvest was very compressed. “It usually takes us nine to 12 weeks to pick our 27 varieties. This year, we were done in 3 weeks. It was very hectic in the cellar!”

“It was a crazy early year,” said winemaker Scott Johnson of Perry Creek Winery in Fair Play. “We had to start watching the grapes in August.”

The area received a heavy rain Sept. 21, and Danica Olivo of Nello Olivo in Placerville, Calif., reported that they used the fan on the sulfur sprayer to blow dry the vineyard and prevent cluster rot. “We had to make three passes, but it worked,” she said.

At Skinner Vineyards in Somerset, Calif., winemaker Chris Pittenger summed up the vintage as “elegant and nuanced.”

Nevada County
In Nevada County, Phil and Jackson Starr of Sierra Starr Vineyard & Winery in Grass Valley, Calif., report that the 2013 harvest was a good one. “We experienced our first signs of véraison 7 days ahead of 2012, so we knew that harvest dates would be in the area of normal to early (which was a welcome change from the 2010-11 vintages). Due to near-perfect weather, our harvest began 10 days ahead of 2012, with a Sauvignon Blanc pick Aug. 23. The fruit was ripe and balanced, with acidity that will ensure a style we are striving for.”

The Zinfandel harvest began Sept. 11, a full 21 days ahead of 2012. “The flavors and color from our Zinfandel look to be quite good. Our final block of Zinfandel was picked Sept. 20, which is a full 30 days ahead of 2012.”

The Starrs believe the early 2013 harvest was due to a warm, dry early start to the season—no exceedingly hot, cool or wet weather through out the summer, and picture-perfect warm days and cool nights through the harvest period. “The rainy day in September was really the only hiccup we experienced.”

Winery staff also paid rigorous attention to its vineyards this year. “An extremely balanced crop load and meticulous attention to irrigation and nutrient needs lead to a vineyard canopy that has perhaps never looked better.” They had average crop loads, but Cabernet Franc was down about 20% due to frost in the spring, and Petite Sirah was up roughly 20%.

Placer County
In Placer County, Jocelyn Maddux of Lone Buffalo Vineyards in Auburn, Calif., and the Placer County Wine & Grape Association reported that this year’s harvest in Placer County is by far one of the best in several years. “Due to hotter than usual temperatures in late spring and early summer, the harvest season started about two weeks earlier than usual, but temperatures also mellowed to provide for an extended ripening period that makes for well-balanced, concentrated, quality fruit.”

She noted that most vineyards in Placer County are small, and yields are intentionally controlled for quality so crop levels remain stable. “Our winemakers are really looking forward to barrel aging and seeing how these wines develop.”

Owner/winemaker Phil Maddux said, “After an early start, the 2013 harvest settled down and as of now, it is looking very good. All the fruit Lone Buffalo crushed looked really good, and fermentation went very well. Ripeness was ideal, and acidity and pH numbers were really good. I saw a lot of similarity in fruit maturity and good natural acid levels to the 2010 vintage, which was the best vintage for Lone Buffalo since we were bonded.”

Michael Duarte of Popie Wines in Loomis, Calif., reported, “In the 10-plus years I’ve had my vineyard, this year is by far one of the best, if not the best. Crop quality and quantities were well balanced by a relatively even growing year that allowed the vines to produce a nice balance of acids and sugars allowing the fruit to ripen to maturity nice and evenly.”

Vicky Morris, owner of Secret Ravine Vineyard and Winery, which is also in Loomis, added, “This was a very different year compared to last year. Crush started two weeks earlier (mid-August) and lasted 2 weeks longer (late October). The heat of July got things going early and slowed down a bit during August.”

She said another hot spell in September to boost the Brix level would have been nice but she was still happy with the flavors and aromas of the grapes she harvested.

Kevin Luther, associate winemaker and manager of Wise Villa Winery in Lincoln, Calif., said, “It was a great year for Wise Villa. The warm spring and early summer meant the ripening season started early, and the cool August and September we experienced meant a long and even ripening season—resulting in the best grapes Wise Villa has ever harvested.”

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