Late Harvest

This title can have so many different meanings this year. It could mean I’d like to write about late harvest dessert wines, like Riesling or Gewürztraminer – though not all of those are late harvest. Or it could mean I want to talk about how late everything is this year. Which in this case, is what I’m talking about.

Let’s start with this growing season.

Spring: Rain, rain, cool followed by more rain and lots of clouds. That about sums up the spring in California. What does that do to the grapes? Well, for starters we had a very late bud break. It was about 2-3 weeks late on average. Generally, it’s not a big deal for there to be a late bud break. The extra time can be enough time to be in the clear from frost issues – that’s a good thing.

Summer: Okay, so we’re only 38 days into summer, but so far it’s been cool. Very cool. Our daily temperatures are usually in the mid to upper 80’s and sometimes some low 90’s by this time. However, it’s been rare to break the 80-degree mark this year. I even had to use the heated seats in my car earlier this week. I was truly cold.

So, what does all this mean? Well, nothing if we have some heat soon, really soon. But if things continue down our current path, we could have an interesting year. As talked about before, there are so many variables when growing grapes, there could be any number of positives or negatives to this cooler year.

Alcohol levels would be lower for sure. Some people think that’s a good thing. Others would argue differently. I’m in the middle on this one. For me, the higher alcohol levels don’t necessarily mean over-produced wines, though it can. Generally, I’m of the thinking that we have higher alcohol levels because we can. Most winemakers and vineyard managers believe in getting the best expression out of the fruit and pick for balance. Most years we get a choice. This year, maybe not. Will that ruin our wine? Likely not. But it could change the style.

It could be that our style this year is much more “old world”. In the “old world” style, there is generally lower alcohol levels, higher acids and higher tannins. This leads to wines (particularly red wines) that will need to age longer in the barrel and bottle to reach their full expression. It could be interesting.

As many of you probably know, the wine industry as a whole is down. Well, one of my theories is that this cooler season and extra time that’s going to be needed in the bottle / barrel could very well mean we can catch up. We’ll have a little extra time to sell through what we have – without lowering prices. A good thing, for sure.

A quick side note: The “price wars” going on right now are driving my crazy. I’ve been equating it to the auto industry after 9/11 – when everyone was offering employee pricing and 0% financing. Wineries are going nuts offering up to 50 and 60 percent off case purchases. Unfortunately, this only does one thing: It leads to consumers waiting for everything to be “on sale” before purchasing. Pretty soon, they won’t ever buy anything at full price again. Not a good thing.

So is there anything we can do about the cool weather? There are a couple of things. One would be to leave the grapes on the vines as long as possible. The only concern is if we have early rains like last year. But that’s a chance we take almost every year. Some vineyard managers are already thinning the leaves on the vines. This offers better sun exposure directly on the grapes which allows the grapes to receive more heat directly. But this is a little risky because if it gets too hot the sun can burn the grapes later on. Everything we can do could have consequences. Hmm, sounds like life.

Last winter we were doing our dance to the rain gods and it worked. Maybe we should try dancing to the heat gods. Hey, it just might work. You never know.

In the mean time, we will continue to closely monitor what the conditions are. And I’ll try to keep it light-hearted by joking about how all the grapes this year are going to be “late harvest” – even the ones that aren’t. I’ll keep you updated.


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One response to “Late Harvest

  1. Pingback: Dessert Wines « Sonoma Cork Dork

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