It's been a relatively late harvest for grape growers in the Mother Lode, leaving many saying better late than never.
Vineyards in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties have reported modest yields and average fruit quality after temperatures remained low well into the early months of the growing season and an early fall rainstorm drenched crops across the Northern California region.
Many grape growers prepared for the worst after the late September storms threatened to cause widespread rot and fruit-killing frost. But an extended period of mild, sunny weather rapidly dried out the more than 3 inches of precipitation that fell across the foothills.
"We started out six weeks late and we're still six weeks late," said
Matt Hatcher, owner of Hatcher Winery in Murphys. "Mother nature has
given us a chance to get rip, and boy we feel fortunate."
Hatcher said the past month has made all the difference to properly
ripen grapes, improve overall quality and keep sugar levels within the
range favored by most winemakers. He said about 80 percent of his
grapes have been harvested, and the remaining 20 percent should be
picked by the end of the week. He hopes to crush a total of 100 tons of
fruit to produce roughly 72,000 bottles of wine.
"I can't stop being thankful for the weather this year," Hatcher said. "Last year was certainly a difficult year."
Paul Verdegaal, a viticulturist with the University of California
Cooperative Extension, said this year's weather had the greatest impact
on mid and late season varieties like zinfandel, petite syrah, cabernet
sauvignon and merlot. He said overall grape yields in the region are 30
to 40 percent below average.
Statewide wine grape production is expected to be down 9 percent
from 2010, with a projected harvest of 3.3 million tons, according to
the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Vinescapes owner Mark Skenfield, who manages 18 vineyards around
Calaveras County, said he plans to continue harvesting late-ripening
varieties for the rest of the week.
"I think 2011 wine quality will be pretty good," he said. "The
fruit is not as pristine, but that doesn't mean we're not going to have
He said cooler temperatures don't stimulate the production of sugar
in the grapes as rapidly as hotter years. Sugar content, pH levels and
acidity all play essential roles in the fermentation process, and
weather changes can have a profound affect on the outcome of a vintage.
"In longer growing seasons, the fruit gets the chance to develop other characteristics besides sugar," he said.
Vineyards have so far been successful in staving off several
invasive pests that damage fruit and carry plant diseases, according to
Calaveras County Agriculture Commissioner Mary Mutz.
She said the county has recently wrapped up a program aimed at
tracking the European Grape vine moth. None of the pests, which produce
larvae that feed on developing fruit and flowers, were found in any of
the 76 traps placed around Calaveras County.