Vintners are pleased with this year’s grape crop, which arrived early due to a dry spring followed by a scorching summer.
“That really hot July pushed things forward,” said veteran winemaker Chuck Hovey.
Hovey makes wine for Gianelli Vineyards, Inner Sanctum Cellars and Hurst Ranch in Jamestown as well as Stevenot Winery and Hovey Winery in Murphys.
For those wineries, Hovey estimates this year’s harvest is about 80 percent complete.
Following weeks of smoky skies created by the massive Rim Fire, there has been discussion among area vintners about the smoke’s impact on the grapes and ultimately the wine.
Hovey said he’s looking for something known as “smoke taint,” which impacts the aroma and taste of the wine.
“So far, we’ve pressed off several red wines and we haven’t noticed any smoke taint,” he said.
Mark Skenfield, a viticulturist based in the Murphys area, said he noticed sugar levels in the grapes drop following days of heavy smoke.
“We were joking it was because of the fire and then we did some research and found that smoke can affect photosynthesis, which is a big part of bringing the sugar levels up,” he said.
Gay Callan, owner of Chatom Vineyards in Douglas Flat, said their harvest has been going well, and they didn’t detect any “smoke taint” on their crop.
“The quality of the fruit has been really incredible,” she said.
Chatom’s grapes are grown at a vineyard between Angels Camp and San Andreas.
“There was enough air circulation that we didn’t have smoke hovering on a regular basis,” she said.
Jeff Stai, owner of Twisted Oak Winery in Vallecito, said they began harvesting about three weeks ago and are pleased with the results.
“We’re actually yielding more than we expected,” he said.
Harvest time is an intense time of year for winemakers.
In the pre-dawn hours this morning, Skenfield planned to oversee a harvest in the Salt Spring Valley, northwest of Copperopolis, for Frog’s Tooth Vineyard in Murphys, followed by a harvest at Brice Station Vineyards east of Murphys.
Working in the middle of the night and early morning hours avoids harvesting in warm temperatures and also keeps the grapes cooler, he said.
For Hovey, who has been harvesting wine grapes for the past 37 years, this time of year involves 12-hour days, seven days a week.
“It’s a long two months, but it’s always fun,” he said.