Nevada County grower Phil Starr’s wine grape crop and harvest are faring much better than a year ago. So far there’s been no harvest time rain like last season.
“The weather this year has been fabulous,” says Starr. Located in the Sierra Foothills near Grass Valley, the family-operated Sierra Starr Vineyard and Winery produces wine from its six estate-grown varieties on 12 acres and grapes purchased from other growers in the region.
“This year the crop is very nice in terms of size, and quality is much better,” Starr says. “The flavor of the grapes is very, very good, too.”
Temperatures have remained in the 80s and 90s for the past three months, he reports. They are now in the fall-like 70-degree range.
“We had a pretty warm summer, so we had to irrigate a little more than usual,” Starr says. “We could have used a little cooler weather. After the crummy weather of the past two seasons, though, I’m not complaining. Fortunately, the nights, generally, have been cool this year, and that’s helped maintain good acid levels in the fruit.”
Starr began his 2012 harvest the first week of September when he picked half of his Sauvignon Blanc vines. He completed that variety a week later before starting on his Zinfandel grapes. The Merlot vines were harvested in the last week of September. His plans call for picking the Cabernet Franc in the middle of the month, followed by the Petite Syrah grapes before winding up the harvest by the end of October with his Cabernet Sauvignon.
Starr’s vines typically yield between about 2 and 3 tons of grapes annually. “Last year, production was at the low end of that range,” he says. “This year they’ve been at the upper end.”
Last season Starr stopped irrigating prior to harvest. As a result, his vines took up much of the rain that fell in early October. That plus continued wet weather diluted sugar levels, making it difficult to achieve the desired Brix when he harvested the fruit.
This year, by contrast, he’s been well-pleased with the sugar, acid and tannin readings of his grapes. For example, he was able to pick his Sauvignon Blanc at about 23.5° Brix and a pH of 3.2. “That’s right where we like it for this grape,” Starr says. “We got the Merlot off at 25.5° Brix and a 3.6 pH, which is very nice for that wine.”
He relies on volunteers and hired worker to harvest the grapes. “We don’t have much of a labor pool around here,” Starr says. “We can’t predict very far in advance when we will harvest a particular stand of vines. Often, it’s a day-by-day decision. That makes it tough to hire workers when we need them. We call a few people we know and hope they’re available.”