Quality Over Quantity
Sonoma County Grape Yields Down but Quality Expected to be Exceptional
It is that time of the year in Sonoma County when it seems all the action is happening after the sun goes down as floodlights light up the vineyards and hillsides with winegrape growers overseeing the 2015 harvest. Though grape yields are down throughout the county, everyone seems encouraged by the flavor and quality of this year’s harvest. At the time of this report, most winegrowers are estimating 50%-60% of the crop has been picked, with many predicting the harvest finishing towards the end of October, several weeks ahead of a normal year.
Early estimates project that the total Sonoma County grape crop could be between 30-35% smaller than last year’s harvest of more than 255,600 tons. Farmers are still being challenged this year by the weather. The month of August had fairly moderate temperatures but the heat returned in early September while predictions increase about a significant El Nino weather system which could arrive later this fall. The north coast region has also experienced several significant wildfires, including the current Valley Fire in Lake County. Winegrowers in Sonoma County have reported that these fires have had no significant impact on their since the fires and smoke never reached the county’s winegrowing regions.
“One of our longtime grape growers likes to describe farming as a dance with Mother Nature, and she is always leading,” says Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers. “Despite this year’s inconsistent weather patterns and drought conditions throughout the growing season, grapes clusters have ripened and matured at optimal levels, resulting in exceptional quality and flavors. This year’s vintage may be remembered as challenging, yet all the hard work will be rewarded with what’s in the bottle in the coming years.”
Here are some quotes and insight from the “front vines” of our AVA’s:
“We started picking Cabernet Sauvignon in early September, four full days ahead of our Cab start last year. The crop is small but looks good. Shattered clusters have tonnage about 20% less than estimates. That’s after one block so we’ll have to see how things go later in the season. It looks like now that we are picking we will be able to keep going for the next two weeks or so. All of our ranches are pretty close in brix.”
— Brad Petersen, Silver Oak Cellars
Dry Creek Valley
“Our August 14th start was the earliest harvest for Kokomo as well as wineries as old as Pedroncelli. We started with Muscat and then continued to bring in fruit for the next 8 days. The weather cooled off and sugars started going backwards which gave us some catch up time and, more importantly, time to build flavors. I am noticing high sugars with lower pH’s which could mean some good acids! Having said that we just brought in Malbec at 3.7 pH. Overall, there are a lot of small berries with no seeds (similar to shot berries but ripe) in Zinfandel and Pinot which I think could give us good color. The weather for the next 10 days is perfect, not too hot and mid 80’s daily so we should have some good ripening into mid-September.”
— Erik Miller, Kokomo Winery
Pine Mountain – Cloverdale Peak
“Pine Mountain Cloverdale Peak will have another early harvest. In fact, this will be the first time in more than a decade that we had pre-October harvests. The wet, cool weather during May created a fair amount of shatter and unevenness. Due to this – and the thinning of the crop to create more evenness in order to maintain quality – yields will be down by at least 20% from last year. Some vineyards are reporting a 50% decrease in yields in some blocks. Generally, it should be a high quality crop due to very even weather since veraison and late rains which negated the need for early watering.”
— Barry Hoffner, Silverwood Ranch
Russian River Valley
“Our harvest of Pinot Noir in Green Valley/Russian River was completed on August 31st. Harvest began on August 15th — 2 weeks earlier than normal to ensure that the small berries did not become dehydrated. Our yields were down this year between 35% – 50% below our six-year average. In terms of grape quality, we had very small, loose clusters with not much weight making for our lowest yield in ten years. It appears that the warm winter and dry spring reduced some nutrient uptake which helped stress vines. Add the cold weather soon after bud break and we ended up with a poor set for the Pinot Noir! But, our winemakers have expressed excitement for the flavor and quality.”
— Pamela Gunsalus, Gunsalus Vineyard
“Based on the early returns, the crop is down in quantity ranging from 20% for Chardonnay to more than 50% for Viognier. Likely, red yields will also be down. Based on the fact that sugars are rising faster than pH numbers, this year will likely produce either high-sugar (alcohol) wines with nice acid or high-acid wines with perfect sugar. From what we have picked so far, the flavors are very nice. Hoping for one break from this crazy weather year so the rains hold off until the harvest is over.”
— Squire Fridell, GlenLyon Vineyards & Winery
Want up-to-the-minute updates on Sonoma County’s harvest activities directly from our grape growers and winemakers?
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