Thanks to warmer temperatures and a slightly lighter crop than usual for some local growers, the grape harvest has arrived earlier than usual this year, and San Luis Obispo County growers say what's coming out of the vineyards is exceeding expectations.
“It’s definitely earlier than it has been in the last few years,” said Neil Roberts, president of Roberts Vineyard Services, a vineyard management company, and founder of Clavo Cellars, a boutique winery in Templeton. “Things are shaping up nicely.”
Picking began in earnest Aug. 14, he said, and would steadily increase over the next week or so.
The fruit’s quality, Roberts said, “looks amazing.”
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“I think it’s going to be a great vintage. 2013 was a good vintage, and this one is stacking up to be even better,” he said.
He, too, is predicting a good year in terms of quality and is seeing “nice numbers for Brix.” Growers use Brix measurements to determine the sugar content in grapes, and that helps them decide when to harvest in an effort to get the ideal balance of flavor and alcohol content in wine.
“The quality I think will be excellent, but there will be an uneven bloom for some varieties that might make for missing berries in the clusters or ones that don't size, called ‘shot berries,’ ” said Merrill.
The early harvest is a statewide trend, according to the California Association of Winegrape Growers’ August newsletter. While the ongoing drought presented some challenges, the overall warm conditions and spring rains got vines off to a good start. The association reported that harvest began in July in some areas, earlier than last year.
Talley Vineyards in Arroyo Grande had its earliest harvest ever this year.
“It started on Aug. 1, four days earlier than the previous record back in 1997,” said Brian Talley, president of Talley Vineyards and Talley Farms.
“A heat wave in January resulted in an early bud break, and then there was warm weather through the spring and into early summer,” he said.
“It cooled off quite a bit in July, but by then the vines were so far down the road in terms of maturity that we were on our way to having an early harvest,” he added.
The crop size is slightly above average and similar to 2012, Talley said. Talley Vineyards is picking chardonnay and pinot noir grapes now, and has already harvested about 40 tons, with more to come.
As for this year's vintage, Talley said he's impressed.
“We really like the flavors we're getting,” he said. “We feel good about where we are in this harvest and super excited about the wines we're making this vintage.”