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.”
Irony of good quality
“Quality-wise we’re good this season,” Wolff says. “The Brix of our Chardonnay met our needs and those of our customers. And, the cold weather resulted in tiny clusters and berries in our Pinot. So, the flavor and color will be very concentrated.
However, it will be a little different story for his Syrah and Petite Sirah. With their tight clusters these two varieties are especially vulnerable to Botrytis and other fungal diseases.
Ideally, winemakers like these varieties to have 25 to 26 degrees Brix, Wolff notes. However, by the end of the third week of October, the Brix readings of those two varieties had only reached the 21 to 22 range.
“We can’t afford to wait much longer, when we will get anything close to the mid 23 Brix we’re picking this year. You can still make a decent wine at that level of sugar.”
Dana Merrill’s company, Mesa Vineyard Management, Templeton, Calif., owns and manages 6,000 acres of vineyards from the Santa Maria Valley north to King City. Among his varieties that recovered the best from the April freeze were Zinfandel and Merlot. Viognier fared the worst. Blocks of that variety that normally produce about 5 tons an acre yielded, at best, just half a ton this season.
“Our yields will be very low this year,” he says. “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.”
Merrill has also heard reports of half-a-ton yields of frost-damaged Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that typically have produced 5 or 6 tons per acre.
Shattering from poor weather during bloom has also taken its toll. “The cluster counts on Zinfandel looked good, because it’s fairly resilient following frost damage,” he says. “But the clusters had a lot of shot berries and incomplete fruit set. As a result growers this year may have harvested 2.5 tons per acre. But, by the time they’re done sorting for quality they may end up getting only about 1.75 tons of grapes per acre.”
Damage from the early October rains in his area also varied by variety. “Fungus problems have been worse on the softer-skin grapes like Petite Sirah and Zinfandel,” Merrill says. “Most of the guys on the east side of Paso Robles were able to get their Zinfandel off without too much trouble, But on the west side I imagine they having to cope with fungus. With a little looser cluster, the Cabernet Sauvignon weren’t hurt as badly.”