Central Coast Wine Harvest Begins

Santa Barbara reports early sparkling harvest, Paso gets hurricane drift

by Jane Firstenfeld
Sandhi Wines picked the first grapes of the 2015 season Wednesday, kicking off harvest on the Central Coast.
Santa Barbara, Calif.—The historically early sparkling grape harvest in Napa County prompted reports from Central Coast growers. At least one winery in Santa Barbara County also harvested this week, according to Rajat Parr, co-owner of the 500-case Sandhi Wines in Lompoc, Calif.

Parr called it. Yields this year are “very small,” Parr said, calling the July 22 pick “our earliest harvest ever.”

“The grapes seemed ripe, with lots of acidity, at 17.5° Brix,” he added.

David Potter, winemaker and owner of 2,500-case Municipal Winemakers in Santa Maria, Calif., shared more detail. “Overall, I’d say harvest date looks a little earlier than ‘normal,’ but nowhere near as early as last vintage. We typically make our first pick for sparkling in Mid-August at around 18°-19° Brix. This is for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. What looked like an early year a few months ago due to exceptionally warm winter and early bud break seems to have slowed down a bit due to cooler weather during flowering and fruit set.”

He compared this year to recent harvests. “We are coming off three big harvests in a row, and while this year’s crop appears to be smaller than the past couple years, it is still what I would consider to be in the ‘normal’ range—a bit surprising considering the prolonged drought.”

Nevertheless, “Some sites just saw some rain the past couple days, and high humidity has been hanging around, so more spray will be needed to keep disease pressure down.”

Michael Hartmann, director of sales and marketing at 30,000-case Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards in Buellton, Calif., consulted with his winegrower and suggested, “We have not made a final decision if we will be making a sparkling from this vintage. The Pinot Noir crop is looking light this year and may be in short supply. Chardonnay is doing well and may be a larger percentage of the blend, if we proceed with making a sparkling.

“Sparkling wine is a small part of our business, and we don’t necessarily make a vintage each year. We currently have stock in inventory to carry us for a while, plus we have some wine from previous vintages still on tirage,” Hartman said.

Weather surprises in Paso Robles
Remnants of Hurricane Dolores made their way to California’s San Luis Obispo County last weekend, prompting a record-setting and unseasonal downpour ranging from 0.84 inches in San Luis Obispo to 1.93 inches in Templeton, Calif. Torrents of run-off rainfall and mud made a mess in downtown Paso Robles, Calif.

According to Christopher Taranto, communications director of Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, “The deluge has most winemakers hoping for dry, windy conditions at the moment. Niner Wine Estates (17,000 cases) has gone as far as hiring a helicopter to help dry the vineyard out.”

The storm caused some erosion in some areas, Taranto said. “But it was a good drink. Reports are that the rain did have some saturation and didn’t just hit the dry surface and run off.”

As to sparkling wine production, he commented, “There really isn’t a Paso sparkling ‘harvest’ here. Most sparkling wines that exist here are typically small-lot pet projects, tasting room only, and not consistent production from year to year.”

Of the wine grape crop in general, he said, “Véraison has begun, but we are just at the cusp of it. This deluge will definitely slow things down now, but it’s early yet to know the ramifications. Normally, whites begin coming off by the second week of September, red varieties start toward the end of September—definitely first week of October. Last year everything was estimated to be three weeks early,” Taranto reported.

“I have not heard of any special problems or challenges from disease or pests. The only anomaly is this storm we just had,” he said.

Posted on 07.27.2015 - 12:22:55 PST
Here at Flying Goat Cellars in Lompoc we harvested last week the Bien Nacido Pinot Noir for our Goat Bubbles Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine. The fruit was in beautiful condition with great acid at 18.5 Brix. This was earliest pick ever for sparkling wine grapes since we started producing Goat Bubbles in 2005.