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Early Crop Estimates Higher Than Anticipated in California

June 2014
by Andrew Adams
Tons crushed per year

California could see an above-average wine grape harvest in 2014, according to early predictions coming from some California vineyards. A third consecutive large crop would be almost unprecedented—and surprising, given the drought concerns that have mounted this year and the assumption by many growers that grapevines naturally limit their fruit production after a big harvest.

Based on “some very early cluster counts, it appears we have the potential for another good-sized crop this year,” Jon Ruel, chairman of the Napa County Grapegrowers and president of Trefethen Family Vineyards, told Wines & Vines on May 14. “The vine canopies look very healthy, and we are cautiously optimistic as we go about the vineyard work, moving on from suckering to leaf and later shoot removal.”

Ruel’s comments were similar to those of other growers in the North Coast and came after Brian Clements, vice president and partner of Novato, Calif.-based Turrentine Brokerage, first told Wines & Vines in late April that he sees the potential for a large crop in 2014. “The potential for an above-normal harvest is there in certain parts of California, but we have a long way to go and nothing’s for sure in wine and agriculture.”

Brad Petersen, Sonoma Winegrowers chairman and vineyard manager for Silver Oak Cellars and Twomey Cellars, said the potential for an average to above-average crop is there, but that’s if everything stays perfect until harvest. “Crop size isn’t determined until it hits the winery,” he said.

By mid-May Petersen said the frost risk had abated, but water remained a serious concern. “There are some growers in this county who are still short on water,” he said. “There could be some difficult decisions ahead if this warm weather continues.”

Petersen added that some vineyards in Sonoma County suffered cold damage in early December, when temperatures across much of the North Coast fell below 10°F, and that could impair bud fruitfulness and shoot growth, limiting the yield of those vines.

A short bulk wine market in 2012 meant wineries were eager to accept any extra yields from that year’s large harvest, especially after it followed the cool and wet vintages of 2010 and 2011. The 2013 wine grape harvest then set a new record at 4.23 million tons. Some grapes from the 2013 growing season also stayed on the vine, as wineries cited quality concerns and growers suspected a lack of tank capacity.

Some wineries are expanding fermentation capacity in preparation for the 2014 vintage. “This year has been crazy with tanks,” reported Davide Criveller, enologist and part owner of Criveller Group, a tank supplier. He said the company is investing nearly $1 million to build an additional 8,000-square-foot building and add more fabrication equipment to keep up with demand for winery tanks from its Healdsburg, Calif., location. He said Criveller is supplying 160 tanks ranging in size from 1,000 gallons to 12,000 gallons to more than 25 clients, most of them in California.

It’s far too early to predict with any level of certainty that 2014 will continue the trend of record harvests, yet the very potential of a large crop is noteworthy. “We are still in bloom in many blocks,” Ruel noted, “and there are many factors that could affect yield between now and harvest.”

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