As California's grape crush begins in the Central Valley, it starts the closing chapter in what has become a remarkable growing season for the state’s grape growers.
It hasn't been challenge free, but pretty close as producers report light insect and disease pressure along with a good crop and some of the best prices in decade.
(For more, see: Thompson green price reaches $325 per ton for short crop)
Napa Valley wine grape grower Jon Ruel was in a buoyant mood about prospects for this fall’s harvest.
Ruel is director of viticulture and winemaking for Trefethen Family Vineyards, in the Oak Knoll District. He is also president of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers. “I’m really excited by our Chardonnay,” he says. “It looks like a return to normal yields. Last year this variety was down about 30 percent.”
“Across the board, yields look very good at this point,” he adds.
The news is the same from the Sierra Nevada Foothills in Calaveras County where the crop is developing pretty much on a normal schedule according to grape grower/vintner Matt Matcher. That puts it as much as a month ahead of last season.
“The vines look like they’ll have a good quality crop this year,” says Hatcher. He said much of that to normal summer weather – unlike the past few seasons -- with temperatures mostly in the low to mid-90 degrees, along with some spells where the thermometer edged up to 100 degrees.
The cluster counts in the area vineyards are about normal. Specifically, he says they range from light in some of the Syrah, to normal in Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvedre to a little heavy in varieties, such as Grenache and Zinfandel.
The harvest is at hand in the Central Valley where veteran PCA PCA Sara Savary’s Thompson seedless and Selma Pete vineyards in the Fowler area of Fresno County were past veraison. “Now we’re waiting for the sugar to come up,” she says.
Savary’s clients include raisin, table and wine grape growers in the Fresno-Tulare areas of the San Joaquin Valley. She’s been seeing a little lighter crop load across all types of grapes this season. “The berries are sizing well and the clusters are about average in size, but there just aren’t as many clusters as we usually see,” she says. “The crop size won’t be real low, but it will be off from last year.”
Growers have already started cutting Selma Pete canes to be ready for machine harvest by the end of the month. Her Thompson growers could begin putting their grapes on trays the last week of August. That compares to the more typical start of around Labor Day.
Insect pressures in her raisin vineyards have been low this season.