As Santa Barbara County’s 2012 grape harvest kicks off, winemakers and vineyard managers are anticipating both quality fruit and tonnage more aligned with what one viticulturist called a “long-term average.”

This year’s growing season incorporated more seasonal warmth, average rainfall and an ideally timed heat spike in mid-August.

In April 2011, a two-night freeze killed green growth from vines’ primary buds, leading to a harvest crop that many vineyard managers and winemakers called less than half of “average” tonnage. The county saw some frost this year, but it caused minimal damage.

While some grape varietals, including the pinot noir and chardonnay used in sparkling wines, were picked as early as mid-August, most berries growing on vines in the Santa Maria Valley and Sta. Rita Hills appellations will require more “hang time” before they reach maturity.

In part because current temperatures have been “mellow,” picking will be sporadic, noted Jim Stollberg, owner of Maverick Farming Company, manager of 500 acres of vineyards across the Santa Maria Valley.

For more, see: Central Coast grape harvest kicking into gear