It will take more than the inch or so of rain that fell the evening the San Francisco Giants won the National League to dampen the spirits of grape growers in California’s North Coast region.
Those spirits have been high for most of the season, thanks to nearly perfect weather along with few insect and disease threats. The result has been a grape crop featuring average or better yields with quality that some say could produce the best vintage in at least a decade.
“What has everyone upbeat throughout this year’s harvest is the quality of the grape crop across the North Coast,” says Brian Clements, vice president of Turrentine Brokerage, Novato, Calif. “Winemakers who are usually tight-lipped about such things are really praising the quality of the 2012 grapes, including Chardonnay and Pinot Noir which have produced above average yields.”
This year’s North Coast harvest began in earnest around the third week of September. A month later things were winding down, except for Cabernet Sauvignon. Barring any extended wet spell, Clements expects the harvest to be completed by early November.
Production has exceeded spring expectations when growers were counting two clusters per shoot. Normally, that indicates the potential for an average size crop, Clements notes. However, that was not the case this season.
“Instead of the high temperatures we normally get, we had a very mild summer,” he says. “That caused the berries to plump up and size.”
“We’ve been seeing yields of some varieties in the North Coast up 20 percent over original estimates. There’s been a lot of discussion about how big the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir crops have been. They’ve been coming in relatively heavy. Merlot production has been pretty much where most growers thought it would be, about average to a little higher.
“Sauvignon Blanc production has been hit-and-miss, average to light in some areas and average to a little heavier in others. Much of the Cabernet Sauvignon hasn’t been picked yet, but most growers think it may come in with below-average yields.”
Many of the varieties this year were ready to pick at about the same time. That’s left wineries short on space. As a result, they’ve been scheduling deliveries seven to 10 days out, Clements reports.
Last year, rains during harvest combined with little available bulk wine and reduced inventories of case goods, causing grape prices to rise dramatically. “Now, because of a plentiful crop and the storage issue, prices have sagged a little,” he says. “But they should rebound. Sales of case goods have been good, and bulk wine inventories are relatively low.