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California Races Toward Harvest

August 2014
by Kate Lavin
Véraison hit Rivino Winery July 10.

Veraison came a good week early for Jason McConnell, owner of Ukiah, Calif.-based Rivino Winery. The Mendocino County winemaker said he noticed Sangiovese berries start to change color July 10.

And McConnell’s experience reflects much of what is being seen across California this year, as a warm spring forced early bloom in many vineyards, pushing vine growth as far ahead as four weeks in some places. Moderating coastal temperatures in late June slowed the rate of growth, however, and most growers are reporting that they’re now one to two weeks ahead of schedule.

Larry Bettiga, the University of California Cooperative Extension viticulture farm advisor for Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, reported that véraison came as much as two weeks early for Pinot Noir in some parts of his district. “Our spring was quite a bit warmer than normal, but summer has been average or a little cooler,” Bettiga told Wines & Vines.

Rhonda Smith, UCCE viticulture farm advisor for Sonoma County, said that above-normal temperatures in March were responsible for the hurried but variable growing season in her area. She added that Sonoma County Pinot Noir started changing color the fourth week of June, Zinfandel the first week of July, and Chardonnay began véraison in some of the vineyards she monitors during the second week of July.

From what she’s seen thus far, Smith estimates the crop load will be “not as large as last year, but depending on the variety it is above average or at average.”

San Joaquin County UCCE farm advisor Paul Verdegaal said vineyards in his growing area, which includes Lodi, Calif., are averaging a week ahead of schedule, as warmer than average daytime highs are mediated by unseasonably cool nights.

Verdegaal noticed véraison in Pinot Grigio and Primitivo during the first week of July, while some other Zinfandel clones began changing color the following week.

Verdegaal estimates the first Zinfandel headed for bottles of white Zin will be picked during the first week of August. He added that an increasing amount of sparkling wine is being made from the area’s fruit, and these grapes are ready for harvest around the same time. “They’re neck and neck with the white Zins, and Sauv Blanc is ready about that time,” Verdegaal said.

The Napa Valley Grapegrowers reported that vines in that county are averaging five to 10 days ahead of schedule. Pinot Noir was the first variety to show color. And in spite of difficult fruit set for Merlot vines (many individual grape berries experienced shatter due to wet conditions during flowering), harvest for sparkling wines was expected to begin as early as late July.

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