As the weather heats up, so do nerves for North Coast grape growers. “I've seen sugar points jump over two points in three to five days,” says Dana Grande, viticulturist with Jordan Vineyard and Winery at Healdsburg.

“We've just begun picking our Chardonnay here in Alexander Valley, and are now moving into some of our younger Russian River Valley Chardonnay vineyards. I anticipate some of our Merlot will be ready mid- to end of next week. The Cabernet is likely to start coming in the week of Sept. 17 and Petit Verdot at the end of September.

“I heard from another grower that he had a one-point jump in 24 hours. We are doing all we can to hold the sugars down. We've been applying frequent short irrigations in hopes it will help keep the berries hydrated. Fruit set and verasion took quite a while in most varieties, so we’re seeing some variability in our reds. Sugars are still pretty low — we’ll wait and allow those greener characters to dissipate before picking. Some foggy mornings would be something to celebrate!”

As most areas are reporting, yields are taking a bit of a hit.

“Yields are down for us so far,” Grande says. “Our Chardonnay looks to be about where we predicted it would be. I won't get too cocky — I still have many blocks and more varietals to pick.

“In general, though, I have heard that cluster weights are down anywhere from 10 percent to 15 percent. This would coincide with what we see in our vineyards. I’ve just adjusted my estimates mid-season. Berries are generally smaller, clusters are smaller, and there is some shatter and poor set in some areas and varieties. We see the same things here.”

It’s quality that is particularly promising this year, and Grande is very optimistic. “Early flavors are really nice, especially in some of my Merlot and Cabernet blocks. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for cooler days and nights and a classic vintage.”