SONOMA COUNTY HARVEST UPDATE #2 – August 20, 2015
A Fast And Furious Pace
For the second year in a row, the 2015 harvest began as one of the earliest on record in Sonoma County. Just after midnight on July 29th the first grapes of the year – nearly 18 tons of pinot noir – were harvested from Vineyard Eleven off Starr Road in the Russian River Valley.
“Growers have kept a fast pace since the start of harvest here in Sonoma County,” said Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers. “For some, picking schedules that usually occur over the course of a month have been condensed into a one or two week time frame this season.”
Many winegrowers throughout the region report harvesting a variety of grapes over the past two weeks, including white varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris, and red varietals Pinot Noir, Grenache, and Zinfandel.
Farmers have been challenged this year by a warm winter, a cool spring and a couple of summer heat waves that will likely result in a high-quality vintage but a smaller yield compared to the last couple of record breaking vintages. While there has been a rash of wildfires recently in the North Coast air quality hasn’t worsened to the point that it could cause tainted grapes due to the smoke.
“They say nothing good ever comes easy which is an apt way to describe the 2015 season in Sonoma County. Our winegrape growers have definitely had to work hard this year to overcome a number of challenges but it appears their hard work will really pay off when it comes to grape quality,” said Kruse. “We’re only three weeks into the harvest season, but our winegrowers and winemakers are already excited about the quality of the fruit, the flavor, color, sugar and acid levels,” she added.
All of these positive factors of grape quality are showing the potential for both richness and elegance from the 2015 vintage.
Here are some quotes and insight from the “front vines” of our AVA’s:
“Quality looks great… Beautiful fruit color and consistency. Sauvignon Blanc yields are down anywhere from 30-40% of our 5 year average for Alexander Valley. We’re also seeing lighter yields for Chardonnay, but we think this varietal will increase as they ripen over the course of the next couple weeks. I can’t believe we will start picking Zinfandel next Monday – that’s super early for this varietal.” – Bret Munselle, Munselle Vineyards
Dry Creek Valley
“The big story is that the overall crop is light, especially with Sauvignon Blanc. Cabernet Sauvignon seems less off in yields than other varieties. The early season combined with a light crop indicates an early harvest. My concern is having multiple vineyards ready all at once. The title of this year’s harvest might be called, “The Fast and Furious!” Sauvignon Blanc seems to have particularly intense flavors with lots of beautiful ripe citrus and lemongrass flavors already. I think Dry Creek Valley is being set up for intense flavors with the lighter Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel crop.” – Tim Bell, Dry Creek Vineyard
“Based on some cluster samples taken across the vineyard on August 8, the Brix and pH measures were about the same levels as this time last year. The biggest difference was the cluster weight — down 40% overall and in some clones (especially PN667) down 50 – 60%. We are anticipating a considerably lower crop yield this year. Winemakers who visited last week were excited by the small berries and the potential for intense flavors and deep color.” – Pamela Gunsalus, Gunsalus Vineyard
Pine Mountain – Cloverdale Peak
“Despite the recent good ripening weather, this season has been challenging on PMCP with a very cool, damp May which produced a drawn-out bloom resulting in significant shatter and unevenness. As a result, our yields will be well below normal. The timing of our harvest is tracking very closely to last year’s very early harvest. All in all it has been a challenging year with lower yields and higher vineyard expenses.” – Barry Hoffner, Silverwood Ranch
Russian River Valley
“Bud break was early due to warm weather in February and -March, but May average temperature was actually colder than January. As a result flowering was delayed and some shatter resulted, lowering yield potential relative to the past 3 excellent harvests. Still Veraison was early and harvest will be 1 to 2 weeks ahead of 2014 in many vineyards and varieties. Cool nights and morning fog have slowed ripening and is allowing nice flavor development. We expect a good quality harvest but with reduced yields.” – John Balletto, Balletto Vineyards
“The earliest crush in St. Francis history began on August 10 with the arrival of 8 tons of Alexander Valley Sauvignon Blanc grapes. At sugar levels of 23° Brix, the vibrantly colored green-gold grapes were sweet to taste with enticing aromas and flavors of peach, pineapple and lemon zest. Judicious use of water in our certified sustainable Estate Vineyards includes soil and moisture probes to monitor irrigation levels and save water as we “spot” irrigate our vines row by row (instead of watering an entire vineyard) as needed. These “deficit irrigation” techniques, combined with a markedly dry 2015, point to a lighter harvest with lower yields than the plentiful 2013 and 2014 grape crops.” – Christopher Silva, St. Francis Winery & Vineyards
Want up-to-the-minute updates on Sonoma County’s harvest activities directly from our grape growers and winemakers? Check out our online tracker: