Aided by warm spring weather, including just one night of frost, Jim Fetzer’s Lake County wine grape vines came out the gate strong and early. Continuing to develop nicely through the season, his crop is now headed for an early harvest. In his area that’s typically one that starts the first week of September. This year, it could be even earlier.

By Aug. 14, some of his Sauvignon Blanc grapes were at 20º to 21º Brix with the possibility of being harvest-ready within another seven to 10 days, he reports.

Fetzer owns Ceago Vinegarden near Nice, Calif. In addition to his two main varieties, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, he grows Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Malbec along with Chardonnay and Muscat.

His 49-acre vineyard is situated at an elevation of 1,400 feet in a protected area along the shores of Clear Lake, where the landscape sports some palm and citrus trees. There the vines enjoy winter temperatures often as much as 10 degrees warmer than those just a 15-minute drive away in Upper Lake.

This year they’ve taken advantage of this season’s favorable growing conditions. “It’s a good, solid crop and above average in quality and tonnage,” Fetzer says. “The color is coming on quickly and, due to our usual fog-free summer weather, the grapes are ripening quickly with good, soft tannins.”

This summer has included a few days of heat. That’s where the lakeside location offers another advantage. If the forecast calls for some really high temperatures, he turns on his sprinklers in the morning to cool the vines with water pumped from the lake.

When Fetzer established the vineyard in 2001, he planted 37 different clones, including some new ones. “The vineyard was like a big spice rack,” he recalls.

By making small batches of wine, he was able to experiment and test the wine-making qualities of the various clones when grown at the same site. At the time, Fetzer had a small winery with many 5-ton vessels than enabled him to separate the wine from the various clones, process them all within the same year and compare the differences.