The wine grape harvest has mostly wrapped up around San Luis Obispo County, with just a few late-ripening varieties still on the vine at some vineyards.
Even though last winter’s El Niño didn’t bring the heavy rains forecasted, the small bit of precipitation combined with a steady, warm growing season resulted in solid, good-quality yields that should make for a strong vintage, area growers said.
“Overall quality is really outstanding with high ripeness and concentration,” said Barton Family Wines/Grey Wolf Cellars vintner Joe Barton.
At Halter Ranch, winemaker Kevin Sass said the grapes have record high phenolics — the chemical compounds that affect taste, color and mouthfeel.
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“The flavors taste great,” Sass said. “Yields are a bit low but still better than last year.”
Wine grapes are the county’s second-leading crop after strawberries, valued about $150 million to $220 million annually, depending on the size of the harvest.
This year’s harvest is much improved compared to last year, which saw 30 percent lower yields on average. But “crush” — as many wineries call harvest time — took on a new meaning as different varieties in different locations all ripened at the same time. That left vineyards jockeying over the limited pool of picking labor.
“It’s all coming in at once,” Zenaida Cellars’ winemaker Eric Ogorsolka said earlier this month. “We’re all in line waiting” for the picking crews.
A number of growers picked their last grapes Friday, just in time for the Paso Harvest Wine Weekend and before the first small rain of the season.
Rather than cause problems for any grapes still on the vine, however, the light rain served simply to knock some dust off the plants, Wolff Vineyards’ Jean-Pierre Wolff said.
“We hope it’s just the start of more to come,” said Wolff, echoing other winemakers’ hopes for good rain this winter.
Although the county’s microclimates and diverse growing areas result in a lot of variation in yield, quality and picking times, many winemakers report that this was one of their earliest-ever harvests.
“It’s rare to finish this early,” said Eberle Winery’s Gary Eberle, recalling some years when the last grapes weren’t brought in until December.
Tablas Creek finished harvest three weeks earlier than normal, and Barton said his cabernet sauvignon grapes were the ripest they’re ever going to get.
“We’re picking in mid-October,” he said. “We used to be lucky to get them ripe by November.”
But the end of harvest doesn’t mark the end of the busy season for winemakers. The work now moves into the cellar, where the grapes are transformed into wine through fermentation, pressing, racking and barreling.
“There’s still the whole vinification part,” Wolff said. “We’ve got another month to go.”
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Celebrate Harvest in SLO
Paso Robles’ Harvest Wine Weekend took place two weeks ago, but you can still celebrate Harvest on the Coast Nov. 4-6.
Organized by the SLO Wine Country Association, the weekend kicks off Nov. 4 with a sold-out winemaker dinner, followed by a Grand Tasting and Wine Auction Nov. 5 at the Avila Beach Golf Resort and wrapping up Nov. 6 with open houses at SLO area wineries.
Get details and tickets at slowine.com.