With warm temperatures predicted for the first part of September, the wine grape harvest in the Lodi region of the San Joaquin Valley was continuing to progress well, reports Stuart Spencer, program manager for the Lodi Winegrape Commission. This follows an earlier start than growers have enjoyed in the past several seasons, thanks to this year’s favorable growing conditions.
The 2013 harvest was well underway by the second week of August as growers picked Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for sparkling wines, along with those and other earlier white varieties, like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, for still wines.
“A lot of grapes came off the vine in the last half of August,” says Spencer. He expects growers to complete harvesting their white varieties by about the second week of September when they pick the last of the Chardonnay.
As September began, growers were also starting to bring in their earlier red varieties. They included Old Vine Zinfandel. Growing less vigorously than young vines, these old vines produce a lighter, more balanced crop, which tends to result in more concentrated flavors.
The Lodi appellation includes thousands of acres of old vines, some dating back 130 years or more. Claiming the title of Zinfandel Capital of the world, Lodi produces over 40 percent of California’s premium Zinfandel grapes, Spencer adds.
Growers are expected to finish this year’s harvest earlier than usual, too. Typically, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Syrah are among the last grapes to go into the bin.
“Historically, the harvest seems to extend throughout the month of October,” Spencer says. “But, this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s wrapped up by mid-October.”
Even though the 2012 crop was one of Lodi’s biggest ever, some fields have continued to produce well this year, too. “The crop in some varieties looks to be heavier than originally anticipated,” he says. “The Chardonnay crop looks lighter than some varieties. But, yields of some Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are coming in at last year’s levels. That’s surprised some people.”
So far, growers are pleased with the quality of their 2013 crop. “The grapes are looking pretty good,” Spencer says. “The nice, warm spring got the crop off to a good start and the generally moderate summer, without extreme high temperatures, allowed the grapes to move right along as they developed.”
The biggest production challenge for Lodi growers this year has been powdery mildew. Vineyards have been under higher-than-usual pressure from the fungal disease. However, unlike areas farther south in the San Joaquin Valley deliveries of surface water for irrigating fields has not been curtailed.
Since most growers here harvest their grapes with machines, Spencer hasn’t heard of any shortage of workers to pick the grapes this season. But, that could change, as the harvest progresses to the numerous blocks of vines, older than about 40 years, Spencer notes. Those vines, which account for about 10 percent of Lodi’s wine grape acreage, must be picked by hand.