North Coast

Mild, dry weather that has encouraged good vine growth and canopy development aren’t the only reasons wine grape growers in Lake and Mendocino counties are in high spirits these days.

“Grape prices are up and the wine industry needs wine,” says Glenn McGourty, University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor for the two counties. “This is a good year to be a grower.”

“It’s nice to see people planting new vines again,” he says. “We’ve had a lot of open ground where growers pulled out vines after the market began to slump in 2002. They was very little planting after that. Now, nursery stock for establishing new vineyards is in short supply for at least the next year or two.”

He describes this year’s crop as average to good.

He estimates the crop is developing about seven to eight days later than usual. But, it’s nowhere near as late as in 2011.

“Last year we could see a disaster in the making in terms of having a late harvest,” McGourty says.

He expects veraison around the first week of August. That’s typical. This year’s harvest also should get underway at the usual time, beginning with sparkling varieties about the third week of August, McGourty reports. The last to mature will probably be Cabernet Sauvignon, which should be ready to pick by the last week of October.

Central Valley raisins

Fresno County raisin grower Dennis Wilt is pleased with the way his vineyards is progressing. “The crop is looking excellent. I don’t know how it could be much better.”

His crop is from 142 acres of Thompson seedless vines, some a century old, and 30 acres of Zante currants in the family’s D&J Farms’ vineyards near Biola, Calif.

The early-July condition of his crop is the result of favorable weather, little pressure from powdery mildew and, so far, no threats from insect pests this season, Wilt says. The winter featured a good number of chilling hours and March and April brought much-needed rain. “Then, the weather turned nice, allowing for good growth after bud break,” he adds.

Veraison began a few days earlier than usual for Wilt’s crop and a good two weeks sooner than last year, when cool temperatures delayed development of the crop. Wilt says his Zantes began to color on June 26. His bunch counts are down about 15 percent to 20 percent from last year.

“We should have a nice average crop this year,” Wilt says. “If the weather continues favorable through harvest, the quality of the raisins this year should be unbelievable.”

He’ll take quality and the higher premium prices that go with it over quantity every time. With fewer trays to pick, dry and truck to the processor, he reasons, harvesting fewer grapes of better quality is more profitable than bringing in more tonnage at a lower quality.

Madera County wine grapes

Sohan Samran is having an easier time managing his wine grapes this year than in 2011. The Madera County farmer grows 850 acres of wine grapes in his Bapu Farming Company vineyards near Madera, Calif.

This year’s bloom began in the first few days of May, about a week earlier than in 2011. By the end of May, his French Colombard and White Zinfandel vineyards were looking the best.

Samran also grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Rubired, and Muscat Alexandria, which he planted three years ago. This year, he replanted part of the original 150 acres of Muscat Alexandria, which suffered from the dry, cool winter. He’ll harvest his first crop from the undamaged fields this year.

“Hopefully, prices in the grape market will be higher this year to help make up for some of that extra expense,” he says.

He sells a portion of his grapes on the spot market and has long term contracts for the remainder of his crop. Last year, Samran says, he was able to sell all of his grapes, and expects that will be the case this year, too, as the market continues to strengthen.