This year’s harvest for Sonoma County vineyard manager Rob Wilkinson got under way on Aug. 24, when the first Pinot Noir was picked for sparkling wines. That was about 10 to 14 days earlier than usual. Crews began picking Pinot Noir along with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc for still wines five days later.
The fourth-generation farmer owns Wilkinson Vineyard Management, based in Sebastopol, Calif. The company serves Sonoma County vineyard owners from Dry Creek in the north, where morning fog from the Pacific precedes warm days, to Carneros in the south, where the influence of San Francisco Bay helps keep it one of the county’s coolest regions.
By the first week of September about 10 percent of the crop in his vineyards had been harvested.
“The warm temperatures and no rain had made for good picking weather,” Wilkinson says. “It’s conceivable that we could finish this season by the 15th or 20th of October.” Typically, the harvest extends through the end of October, he adds.
So far, yields have been as he was expecting – normal to slightly higher.
Wilkinson has been tweaking his irrigation program in an effort to improve the wine-making qualities of the fruit. Although sugar readings are where they should – 23 to 26 Brix – they’re coming on too quickly.
“Because of the hot weather the sugars are moving right along and are running ahead of grape maturity,” he says. “So, we’re irrigating a little more to slow sugar development and more provide more hang time for the pH and flavors to catch up.”
In view of high temperature predicted towards the end of first week of September, Wilkinson was putting on additional water to keep the vines hydrated and sugar levels down.
His vineyards experienced high powdery mildew pressure throughout the season this year. To keep it under control, he kept his fungicide applications on a tight schedule.
Following several inches of unusual rain at the end of June, he thinned the leaves from around the fruit zone and removed some fruit to improve air flow and reduce any threat from botrytis.
“There were rumors of some growers having trouble controlling the disease,” he says. “But, we were fortunate not to have any problems.”
Most of Wilkinson’s growers have their grapes under contract this year. However, a few, who signed late, had to take prices below the county average, he reports.
All in all, Sonoma County wine grape growers are expecting 2013 to another good year for them. “They’re pretty positive about this year’s crop,” he says. “The weather is good and they’re eager to get the harvest completed.”