Sep 27, 2017
by John Haggard, Sophie's Cellars
When reviewing this season’s harvest, it’s important to look back at the rain totals from the winter of 2016 into early 2017 which ended a very long drought and have influenced many of the vineyards and wine production. Soil saturation and water tables were replenished creating a much denser canopy than we’ve experienced over the previous several drought years and as grape-growing truly is farming, for many this lead to numerous repeated thinning of the canopy in order to get sunlight in and air-flow to the fruit along with an intensified need for regular mowing. In this new challenging time for farmers to find laborers and those experienced in working in the vineyards, this has added another dimension and problem for our Sonoma County wine industry and, indeed, that of California as a whole.
The harvest had only just begun when the first rains began to fall followed by a patch of cool weather leading to a common concern as the berries develop and are susceptible to bunch rot -- the extended period of high moisture and cool days does not allow for fruit to dry completely.
Then came our unprecedented record heat in some parts of the county reaching well over 110 degrees, temperatures remaining over 100 degrees for nearly a week. While we expect hot weather in wine country close to harvest, providing the vineyards with an opportunity to not only dry out but for the sugars to begin their necessary climb of brix to twenty or more, the record-breaking temperatures actually caused the vines to shut down to protect themselves and caused some extensive raisining among the exposed berries.
Exacerbating the problems, was, in some cases a normally good vineyard management practice for thinning of the fruit and carrying out “leaf pull”. And while no-one could have predicted the intense and long span of heat Sonoma County was to experience, removing some of the leaf cover actually ended up leaving some berries more vulnerable to the intense heat and some vineyard-managers who had thinned early, lost more fruit. It’s always a difficult decision to decide to drop fruit and go with a smaller crop with a better chance of ripening or exposure in the hope that mother nature is going to somehow be more protective of the remaining fruit on the vine.
All this said, a smaller crop that many vineyards will now yield, does not necessarily produce a lower quality of wine. Quite the contrary, a small yield may often produce higher quality wines.
Following the intense heat, we then did experience another cold snap and more moisture causing a pause in picking. This has probably been beneficial as it is allowing limited crews an opportunity to spread out the remaining picking of the 2017 harvest, unlike way back in 2004 when a sudden heat spike caused crush pads to be so overloaded with fruit and winemakers struggling to find facilities to save their harvest.
How should all this affect the wine consumer when experiencing the 2017’s from Sonoma County?
Well, it will be a couple of years before most of the 2017 reds will be released, the 2017 whites such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc will be appearing by 2019. There are several barrel tasting events held in Sonoma County for purchasing futures, and I’d recommend taking the opportunity when you can to taste and, perhaps, purchase futures, especially if your favorite vineyards have yielded smaller than expected crops.
Wine Road’s Food and Wine Affair, Saturday and Sunday November 4th and 5th, 11am – 4pm each day. Tasting Along the Wine Road is the premier event for Wine Road – Northern Sonoma County! A weekend of wine and food pairing in the Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys. All of the wineries participating will have a favorite winery recipe available online, which they will prepare both days for sampling along with the perfect wine. For more information visit www.wineroad.com
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