Mark Aselstine
October 3, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Harvest and Rain Collide

There are few things which worry vineyard managers and grape growers as much as rain right around harvest.

It seems an ever increasing problem in Napa Valley and Sonoma where slight shifts in weather patterns seem to be bringing November’s traditional rains slight earlier, while an attempt to achieve optimum ripeness has pushed harvest dates back several weeks from where they were a generation ago.

California’s historic wine regions are both expecting around an inch of rain within the next 24 hours.

For Cabernet Sauvignon growers, it’s not as big of a concern because they can simply let the grapes hang on the vine for the warm temperatures coming at the end of the week, allowing them to achieve ripeness while drying out. In fact, wine country received a bit of rain about 10 days ago, with many vintners happy to have mother nature’s help in cleaning off their grapes before harvest.

There are two problems though. To start, Pinot Noir growers were frantically picking grapes over the past 48 hours as those grapes are very close to ready for harvest and vintners can’t afford to let them settle on the vine for another week.

Secondly, when rain strikes near harvest, some vineyards experience a level of rot on the vine which reduces yields. In many years growers simply consider it part of the price of doing business on a per ton basis (rather than a per acre which is what most fine wineries prefer these days) but yields are already down at least 50% off their peak and prices are down per ton as well, further pressuring growers to bring in as many quality grapes as possible.

I didn’t realize when starting a wine club that I’d watch the weather as closely as I currently do, but it stands as a good reminder that despite all the technical progress in terms of both winemaking and vineyard management, nature is still making the majority of the decisions.


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