Harvest woes hit California

Heavy rains in October hit the Californian wine harvests this year. Sadly for fans of premium Napa and Sonoma wines, it’s not going to be the most consistent vintage

Californian wine producers have been having a tough time, with heavy rains through the month of October. Cloud cover and less than optimum temperatures had been a problem already for some growers but on 3 October the heavens opened on several districts, including Russian River. A lot of grapes weren’t fully ripe and some of them were just about there, but those that got lucky were the growers that chose to go ahead and pick anyway, because there was a further burst of rain on 10 October. Those that picked just before or just after 3 October had already spotted grey rot and decided that, on balance, it was better to settle for slightly underripe grapes than none at all. This means that a lot of these grapes will have been brought in around or below the Brix level of 22, which converts to 13% alcohol but, with any luck, the wines will be reasonably well balanced with perhaps some greenish notes.

Some who waited suffered badly after 10 October, especially in northern pockets of Napa and Sonoma. For many growers the only salvation was to pick in “triage” style; that is, to make several passages through the vineyards, selecting out the best bunches and leaving behind any rotted ones. Central Coast didn’t suffer too badly, as it didn’t get the second torrent of rain, and this means that a fair proportion of mid priced wine should get in with reasonable levels of quality and a decent return to the grower. Elsewhere, for many small growers who sell grapes to big wine corporations, yields, weights and Brix levels will be down and some will be forced to settle for payment levels much lower than they had earlier expected. 

There won’t be too much impact on the consumer who buys entry to mid point wines, because they tend to come from warmer, drier districts which were generally less affected by the rains. For fans of premium Napa and Sonoma wines, it’s not going to be the most consistent vintage, with some wines likely to suffer from dilution and imbalances in alcohol and acidity.

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