What is in this article?:
- Central Coast wine grape growers will not soon forget 2011, unfortunately, for mostly the wrong reasons.
- Growers saw improved prices without yields to cash in on a market turnaround.
- If there was a silver lining, the low yields seem to be offering promising intense flavors in the final wine.
- Weather was the story of 2011.
Grape grower Dana Merrill’s company of Templeton, Calif., reports coastal wine grape yields are very low in 2011. “Our yields will be very low this year. Even without the frost, we’d be looking at a lighter-than-normal crop. But throw in the frosted blocks and I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re 40 percent off normal on our yields.”
Grape grower and winemaker Steve Thompson is one Central Coast grower who’s glad to see the season finally end. “This year was brutal,” he says. “Yields were terrible, but farming costs didn’t go down. I’m relieved the crop is in.”
The owner of Coyote Moon Vineyard and Twin Coyotes Winery, he grows 32 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Sauvignon Blanc and Vermentino near Paso Robles, Calif. He began this year’s harvest with the Sauvignon Blanc on Sept. 2. That was about two weeks later than usual. He finished picking his grapes on Oct. 20.
“Last year, we picked about 90 tons of Sauvignon Blanc,” he says. “This year we got just 14 tons. “Overall, yields in his freeze-damaged vineyard were off 40 percent this year,” reports Thompson, whose crop was insured for frost.
He escaped the early October rain with minimal damage. He got the last of his Cabernet Sauvignon off the vine the day before the rain began. And all but one acre of his Petite Sirah had been harvested by then. With its tight clusters, this variety is especially vulnerable to fungal disease. Two days after the rain he sprayed the vines with a fungicide to protect them from any powdery mildew. A week later he harvested the grapes without any damage.
But, for many growers the season is not yet over. Some expect still to be picking grapes into November, much later than usual.
Another bright spot for Thompson has been the quality of his fruit this year, which he attributes to the extra long hang time of his grapes.
“The quality has been exceptional,” he says. “The quality of the Vermentino, in particular, has been fabulous.”
Thompson reports Brix readings 22 to 22.5 degrees; for his Sauvignon Blanc; 23 for his Vermentino; 24 to 25 for his Petite Sirah and 25 for his Cabernet Sauvignon. In terms of acids, the pH of his grapes tested at about 3.5.
Near San Luis Obispo, Calif., in the Edna Valley of San Luis Obispo County, Jean- Pierre Wolff rushed to finish harvesting his 50-plus acres of Chardonnay grapes by Oct. 24. He has sprayed his remaining varieties for Botrytis following the early October rain. The harvest of Wolff Vineyards and Winery’s 125 acres of grapes this year began with 34 acres of Pinot Noir on Oct. 7 — about four weeks later than an average season. The two other varieties — Syrah and Petite Sirah — are running about three weeks later than usual. Wolff doesn’t plan to start picking those grapes until the first or second week of November.
“It’s definitely been a challenging year,” he says. “The April freeze and the cool summer have certainly impacted the quantity of grapes. Our Pinot production was down about 30 percent and our situation is similar to others in the valley.”
His Chardonnay yields are down, also. However, because his Syrah and Petite Sirah bud out about three to four weeks after his Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, they escaped the April freeze unharmed. So, considering the cooler growing season, he expects production of these two later-blooming varieties could be close to average or just a little lower this year.