While 100-degree-plus temperatures in the first part of August increased the threat of sunburn in the Heringer Holland Vineyards near Clarksburg, Calif., they also helped advance ripening of the wine grapes.
“Things are moving along well and speeding up,” says Steve Heringer. “We’ve had a pretty fast verasion, too. When they started to turn, they turned very fast.”
The earliest varieties began softening and picking up color in the first half of July.
By the second week in August, his early-maturing grapes were at 15 to 16 brix. “With the heat wave, they’ll move along a little faster. We should be picking our first grapes in the first week of September. We hope to wrap up the harvest by the third week of October.”
He and his wine-making son, Mike, are part of a Upper Delta family farming operation, which also includes forage crops, that dates back more than 140 years. The family established the first wine grape vineyards nearly four decades ago.
Today the operation includes 145 acres of premium wine grape varieties, ranging from Chardonnay and Petite Syrah to Petite Verdot, Teroldego and Tempranillo. The Heringers use part of the production for the own wine label and sell the remainder to wineries.
“Overall, we’re pleased with the way our crop looks,” Steve says. “It won’t be a huge one. Cluster counts indicate we’ll probably achieve average yields, maybe 5 percent over, in some cases.”
Diseases weren’t much of a concern in the vineyards this year. One reason is location. “Here in the Clarksburg appellation we’re in the gun barrel of the Carquinez Straits,” Steve says. “So, we get quite a bit of wind from mid-spring to early-summer, which keeps things dry and cool. And, as long as we stay on top of our powdery mildew control program, we don’t have too many disease problems.”
The vineyards have been relatively clean of insect pests, too, this season. As certified sustainable wine grape growers, the Heringers treat for insects only when a problem emerges. This year, they’ve had no need to spray any insecticides, Steve reports.
The Heringers sell grapes to some two dozen boutique wineries in relatively small lots ranging from about 5 to 100 tons. “Because our customers produce higher-end wines, their expectations for grape quality are higher than the norm,” Mike says. “Also, we put the grapes into bottles of our own label. So, we know what it takes to create quality in the vineyard.”
As a result, the Heringers do a lot of shoot and cluster thinning, leaf pulling, and deficit irrigation to moderate yields for better quality.
This year’s much more favorable weather than the past two seasons has made that job a bit easier.
“I think quality will be excellent across the board,” Steve says. “The crop is very uniform in maturity and the berries are smaller, creating more concentrated flavors, color and character. Also, we’ve had more heat units than in the past few years. We like to harvest grapes for our own wine in the 25 to 26 brix range. We should be able to achieve that this year without any problems.”
Along with better weather this year, the market for their grapes has also improved.
“Prices are looking stable and things are very positive,” adds Mike.
Heringer’s grapes are contracted to wineries. Many of those contracts run for three years or longer. Currently, they’re exploring opportunities to contract for planting some new varieties in their vineyards.
“The challenge is making sure we can cover our expenses in developing new vineyards and protect ourselves from such productions risks as changes in labor and fuel costs over the next 10 years or longer, not to mention the inherent risk of farming” Mike says.