Dana Merrill’s Central Coast wine grape harvest began Sept. 1, about two weeks later than usual. His crews began with a few blocks of Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara County, where initial yields were about normal, and some Sauvignon Blanc and a little Pinot Gris in the Paso Robles area of San Luis Obispo County. Production there appears to be lighter than normal. His company, Mesa Vineyard Management, Templeton, Calif., owns and manages 6,000 acres of vineyards, extending from south of the Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara County, north through San Luis Obispo County to King City in Monterey County.
Except for vineyards in the easternmost areas of Santa Barbara County, those in the rest of the county escaped the mid-20 degree frost that hit much of the Paso Robles area and southern Monterey County on the Central Coast over a two-day period in early April.
Merrill’s vineyards there suffered no frost damage. “Our first Santa Barbara yields looked close to average,” he says. “It’s not a big year, but it’s not a disastrously light one, either.
He was able to prevent any mildew damage this year, and he’s pleased with the Brix, acid and pH numbers he’s getting so far. With warm temperatures the last part of August and early September, his grapes have been ripening well, too.
”We’ve had a nice progression of warm days and cool nights, which allows the grapes to mature evenly,” he says. “We haven’t had any damp on-shore air flow in the mornings — that can cause grapes to linger on the vine longer and then you risk more trouble with botrytis and rot. Grape quality is great: we expect a good vintage.”
It’s a different story a little farther north, around the Paso Robles area, where the April freeze struck vineyards particularly hard.
“We haven’t yet picked our frozen blocks, which are at least three weeks late this year,” Merrill says. “But, production in the first Sauvignon blanc and Pinot Gris blocks we’ve harvested is off about 20 percent from earlier estimates. You can’t tell the whole story by the first grapes to ripen — they’re usually the lightest yields. Production could change with the later grapes.”