It begins! Harvest in Central Coast wine country.

"The Grape Harvest," Anonymous, Southern Holland, 16th century

California’s Central Coast often gets taunted for lacking seasons in comparison with the rest of the world.  While it’s true that we Central Coasters enjoy more than our fair share of perfect weather, it’s unfair to accuse us of seasonlessness.  (Is that a word?)  For example, one of our favorite times of the year is when the wine grapes start to turn colors, a process officially known as veraison.  It generally occurs six months before harvest, right around the time school children don their new clothes and hit the books again.  Like the smell of earth or a crisp wind, veraison is a signal that fall is on the way.

According to one of our beloved wine blogs, www.TablasCreek.typepad.com, veraison has hit some of Paso Robles wine country, though a bit later than usual due to a somewhat chilly summer.  Writes Jason Haas of Tablas Creek Vineyard & Winery:

"Grape Harvest at the Chateau LaGrange," Jules Breton, France, 19th century

Is it scary being at least a week later than 2010, when we had our latest harvest ever?  Yes, more than a bit.  But there are reasons to think that we’ll catch up.  First, August and September of 2010 were the coldest on record in Paso Robles.  Although 2011 hasn’t been as hot as Paso Robles mid-summer often is, it’s been at least warm, and it’s unlikely that we’ll see 2010’s extremely cool weather over the next six weeks.  Further, yields are much lighter than they were in 2010.  Thanks to a frost-free spring and ample winter rainfall, we averaged 3.6 tons per acre in 2010.  We got good rain again this last winter, but the April frosts will ensure that our tonnage is down significantly, by at least a third compared to last year and probably more.  The lower load on the vines should accelerate the ripening from this point.

"Grape Harvest," Julia Forman, 2010, South Africa

Our friends over at Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery in Templeton concur.  General Manager Matt Merrill told us:

An extreme frost in the spring lightened our crop quite a bit, and the cool summer will certainly push harvest later.  But the good amount of rainfall in the winter gave the vines full canopies, so all of the vines look really good.  When the grapes ripen, it will happen all at once, and the quality will be really high.

At the other end of San Luis Obispo County, in the Arroyo Grande Valley, Laetitia Estate Vineyard & Winery is already in the throes of harvesting grapes for sparkling wine production.  Vice President of Vineyard Operations Lino Bozzano takes a moment out of his busy day to tell us:

"La vendimia," Francisco de Goya, Spain, 1787

Today is our first day of harvest, picking for sparkling wines. We started the day picking through a rough patch where we had to do heavy sorting – thankfully it was only about 300 vines and the rest of the block looks great. This has been a tough year: With late and heavy spring rains making early-season disease control difficult, coupled with cool summer weather, we have been going head-to-head all year long fighting pests. Given the less-than-ideal weather conditions, all the early season risks we took (early leafing, excessive shoot-thinning, and crop-dropping) are going to pay off. Looking forward into this harvest, it is only August, and there is plenty of room for disaster. The vines have been through a lot this year, and I don’t feel we are going to have the typical “pick it when you want” harvest.

We have our fingers crossed for those of you who are close to the vines, biting your fingernails and checking the weather report every few minutes!  Happy harvest, and may the season yield your best crop yet.

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2 responses to “It begins! Harvest in Central Coast wine country.

  1. Pingback: Phew! Harvest is over. Pass the Beaujolais. | THE DISH by PSPR

  2. Pingback: Light in Chicago | Green As Sky by Sloan Nota

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