Prospects for a good wine grape crop in Calaveras County in the Sierra Nevada foothills are much brighter than time a year ago. The crop is developing pretty much on a normal schedule, which puts it as much as a month ahead of last season.
“The vines look like they’ll have a good quality crop,” says Matt Hatcher, Murphy, Calif., who visited various area vineyards in early August. “Everything is looking really nice.”
He attributes 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.
Hatcher’s 3.5 acres of Zinfandel are at the 1,500-foot level in a district where vineyards range from about 1,200 to 2,000 feet in elevation. His grapes started to soften around the last weekend of July.
“Veraison started normally and then stalled a little, possibly because of some very warm weather,” he says. “The pace has since picked up.” Veraison is about concluded.
Cluster counts in 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.
Hatcher thinned shoots in June, and into early July removed leafs and all the shoulder clusters from his Zinfandel, which typically grows more fruit than he wants for quality. He thinned clusters Aug. 7 to meet his production goal of three tons per acre.
“Last year, even if growers in this area dropped fruit later in the season, we all suffered to bring in ripe fruit,” he says. “Yields of just 2.5 tons per acre were common in 2011.”
Assuming the weather continues warm and dry into fall, Hatcher expects to pick his grapes sometime between the middle of September and mid-October. Last year, he didn‘t finish harvest until the third week of November.
It has been a relatively light powdery mildew year and once again insect pests have been nonexistent. The only pest control actions he and other growers need is to protect vineyards with deer fencing and bird netting.
Along with the weather, the market for Sierra Foothills wine grapes has also improved this year. Hatcher uses all of his grapes, along with fruit from other local vineyards, to make wine for his Hatcher Winery label.
“With less bulk wine available and more demand, the market is a little tighter,” he says. “Plus the quality of grapes is there — so, it should be pretty good market for growers this year.
“It has been a real pleasure growing grapes this year — a lot of us in the area have smiles on our faces. We’ve been very fortunate; there’s no doom and gloom on the horizon. We’re keeping our fingers crossed and hoping things don’t change before we finish the harvest.”