Here we are on the 1st of September and the only grapes that have been taken off the vines are grapes that will be used in sparkling wines. As mentioned in previous posts, sparkling wine grapes are picked earlier than any other grapes to retain the natural acidity necessary in that type of wine production.
There have been several stories about the “First day of harvest!”. Funny how these news stories spread the span of a week. There was only one winery that had the first picked grapes of the year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited that harvest started. And I very much enjoy the wines that are produced from these early picked grapes. But it’s kind of worrisome that we haven’t seen any still wine grapes be picked yet.
Luckily, we’ve been having some nice heat in the afternoons lately, but the mornings are a different story. Just two days ago the fog didn’t lift in Sonoma until the noon hour. It was supposed to be 82 degrees that day, it turned out to be only 74. Every degree counts right now. There is limited time left.
Let me preface the next paragraph with this: I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it – I am not a sensationalist.
There are several things that happen as we get further into the season. First, we get less and less sunlight everyday. If that sunlight continues to be blocked by fog in the morning, it could cause some issues. Second, as we get closer to October, the leaves on the vines start to turn colors (beautiful reds and yellows). While they are pretty to look at, if a vine doesn’t have green leaves, it’s not photosynthesizing and the grapes are no longer getting energy. Lastly, if we get early rains it could prove to be devastating for many growers / wineries. All of these things can lead to an even later crop than we already have.
Want the good news? Because despite that last section, I actually am a wine glass half full kind of guy. Late harvest means more flavor. How? The longer a grape hangs on the vine, the more complexity of flavors it develops. Sounds good. In addition, we usually see lower alcohol levels and more balanced wines in cooler, late years. All good things.
There are some vineyard practices that can speed things along. Mostly in thinning the grape clusters. That process is literally cutting clusters of grapes off the vines while they are still under-ripe. This provides more energy to the remaining clusters moving the ripening process along. In years of good crop levels, this is a great practice. In some cases this year’s crop is down 20+%. Although I’ve heard some growers say their crop level is normal. It really depends on the grape and the area, but when your crop level is lower than normal you really don’t want to thin just to speed things along. It’s a tough call.
I did talk with some winemakers this week that mentioned some of their grapes would be ready in the next 7-10 days. So, I think the bulk of the harvest is about to start. But for some growers, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon growers in the eastern facing hills, there’s a long road ahead still.
I’ll keep you updated on the 2011 harvest happenings in Sonoma and surrounding areas as this season continues to unfold.