Moscato is one of the trendiest wines today gaining high marks with consumers.

Moscato is made with Muscat of Alexander grapes, a white grape with a light, sweet taste favored by a growing segment of the Millennial Generation; those born since the late 1970s.

Several thousands of acres of Muscat grapes have been planted in California due to the growing popularity of Moscato. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, about 3,100 acres of Muscats were planted in California in the last three years including about 720 acres which are non-bearing.

Will Moscato mirror the popularity that Chardonnay and White Zinfandel wines hold today after gaining notoriety in the 1990s, or be a flash in the pan?

Only time will tell.

With the new Muscat grape growers in California, Farm Press turned to a veteran Muscat grower family in Madera, Calif., to share their trials and tribulations in Muscat grape production. The Jim Erickson family’s Muscat acreage is small — 13 acres. However, the Ericksons’ experience in growing Muscats exceeds 80 years.

Erickson Farms is a 1,500-acre enterprise producing a range of grape varieties on 380 acres. Almonds and olives make up the balance.

Family patriarch Wendell Erickson planted the family’s first Muscats in the 1930s. His son Steve carried on the Muscat tradition. Today, Steve’s son Jim oversees the operation. His family includes wife Lori, sons Jason and Lee, and daughter Kristi. Jason and Lee, ages 29 and 26 respectively, are full partners.

Each generation of Erickson’s graduated from California State University, Fresno. All are proud to hang the ‘Farmer’ shingle outside.

The family also operates an agricultural spraying service and almond custom harvest company. Jim and local farmer Joe Lilles own a farm trucking business.

Jim, 51, has about 25 years of experience in wine grape production including Muscats. The family’s Muscat vineyards are adjacent to heavily travelled Highway 99 at the southern tip of Madera County.

In addition to Muscats, the family’s grape plantings include Thompson, Selma Pete, Carignane, Grenache, Cabernet Franc, and Royalty. The Erickson’s are on the short list of California grape growers who produce Nebbiolo grapes.

About 90 percent of the Erickson grape crops are grown for wine; the balance for raisins. The wine grapes are marketed through Allied Grape Growers and trucked to O’Neill Winery, Constellation Brands, The Wine Group, and other smaller wineries and packers.

The Erickson sons are involved across the farming enterprise and bring a keen knowledge of technology to the mix with their father’s vast grape-growing expertise. Jason ‘nursemaids’ the Muscat grapes to produce maximum yields, Jim says.

Last year, the family’s Muscat of Alexander yields totaled about 17 tons per acre. The 2010 figure almost topped 19 tons per acre. The grape clusters are quite large. Last year’s crop sold for about $400 per ton.

Muscats are a late-season grape harvested from late September to early October in Madera County.