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.”

Raisin growers race clock as labor, crop quality concerns loom

Labor shortages are plaguing California raisin growers as they scramble to get grapes off the vines and onto trays in time to meet crop insurance deadlines.

Normally, they have about 4.5 weeks to get canes cut for mechanical harvesting or grapes hand-picked and laid on trays to dry. But, this year’s cool weather has slowed grape ripening, compressing the harvest period to as few as two weeks for some growers. And sugar levels are slow to increase, resulting in reduced tonnage. Cloudy weather and rain showers over the weekend of Sept. 10-11 didn’t help matters.

“There’s a lot of apprehension out there,” says Steve Spate, grower representative for the Fresno-based Raisin Bargaining Association.

Typically, early vineyards are ready for harvest Aug. 17-20, but this season, harvesting didn’t really begin until about 10 days later. He expects to see some spot shortages of labor during this condensed picking season.

To read more about what Spate and Merrill had to say about this year’s California grape crop go to GrapeLine at http://subscribe.westernfarmpress.com/subscribe.cfm?tc=NNWEB where you can also subscribe to future, exclusive in depth issues. Mailed twice monthly through the growing season, the e-newsletter is sponsored by Chemtura AgroSolutions.