“The quality of our 2009 grapes was one of the best we’ve had in quite a few years,” says Sonoma County grape grower Duff Bevill. “All the winemakers I’ve talked with agree that it’s been a pretty outstanding season.

Bevill Vineyard Management, Healdsburg, Calif., manages vineyards, representing just about every major California wine grape variety, for clients throughout Sonoma County.

This year’s grape crop suffered no sunburn, mildew or bunch rot nor any unusual temperature spikes or high irrigation demands. “We had a nice, tempered season with temperatures warm enough to ripen the fruit but cool enough not to cause excess stress to the vines,” he says. “The result was great looking fruit with fully developed flavors and proper color. From a winemakers’s point of view, the fruit quality was outstanding.”

The favorable weather included relatively late spring rains, which provided sufficient water for the vines without interrupting vineyard activities. In fact, where he irrigated, Bevill started drip irrigation a month later than normal in many cases. In others, he didn’t irrigate at all.

Yields reflected the excellent growing conditions. “In some cases, crop load was very, very good, Bevill says. “Others were good or certainly satisfactory.”

About 85 percent of the wine grapes in Sonoma County had been harvested when the first of two big October storms began, he reports. In his operations, those still on the vine were Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The quality of the post-rain grapes is still in question, Bevill adds.

Sonoma grapes sales this season reflected the decline in demand for higher-priced wines due to the sagging economy. “Without exception we fulfilled all our contract obligations this year,” he says.

However, unlike the last five or six years, he was left with some of the 2009 crop unsold. Other county growers were in a similar position, Bevill notes. Some growers custom crushed their excess grapes for the bulk market, he says.

In hindsight, Bevill would have tried to make deals to sell his grapes earlier in the season. Still, that wasn’t always possible. “In some cases, we had no conversation with anyone about a particular block of grapes,” he says. In others, both parties were negotiating contracts in good faith early in the season but buyers stopped talking before there was a chance to finalize the agreement.”