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SLO County wineries hope rainy winter, classic summer add up to a quality harvest

The first wine grapes of the 2017 vintage are starting to be plucked from the vines in what growers are describing as a varied vintage.

The abundant rains of last winter promoted vigorous vine growth, but that didn’t result in higher grape yields across the board.

“The canopy grew like crazy,” said Jean Hoefliger, consulting winemaker at Edna Valley’s Tolosa Winery, which picked its first pinot noir grapes early Tuesday morning. “But yields aren’t much better than last year,” which was considered a fairly small harvest.

Down the road at Center of Effort, winemaker Nathan Carlson said chardonnay yields look fairly normal but pinot noir is low.

“We had an extended flowering period, and the clusters did not set many berries,” said Carlson, who expects to begin picking the last week of August. Clusters are averaging 30 grams, compared to norms of about 70 grams, he said, and cluster counts are down in some vine blocks as well.

Wolff Vineyards, also in Edna Valley, reported higher than usual cluster weights, while Cuttruzzola Vineyards in Cambria said this year is looking better than last year’s paltry yields of under a ton per acre but still a little low at under 2 tons an acre.

San Antonio Winery winemaker Anthony Riboli said berry size at the family’s Paso Robles vineyards appear medium to small, with loose, average-sized clusters. “This should make very concentrated wines,” he said.

At Epoch Estate Wines’ Paso Robles vineyards, winemaker Jordan Fiorentini said yields — especially syrah and tempranillo — have suffered the last couple years but look to be close to normal this year.

“I’m excited to see what the vines produce after having such nice rainfall in the winter and this more classic Paso Roblean summer,” said Fiorentini, who says harvest is tracking about a week or a week and half later than last year.

“I think we’ll begin (picking) sometime the week of Aug. 21 with some viognier,” she said. “It all depends on the weather.”

Many vineyards around San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles say they’re a couple weeks away from picking, with uncertainty lingering over whether it will be a fast or extended harvest.

“We’ve had three super-fast harvests, and all this season I’ve been thinking it would be a little slower paced because of the winter rain and cool start to spring, but it heated up,” Fiorentini said. “Now I don’t know!”

While timing-related factors remain unclear, many winemakers agree that the rain and generally good weather over the growing season have combined to produce high-quality grapes.

“The growing season was very good, providing for clean fruit, uniform berries and physiologically balanced vines,” Wolff’s Jean-Pierre Wolff said. “This should translate into a quality vintage.”

Last year, wine grapes generated $242.9 million in value, up 65 percent over 2015, a particularly tough year for grapes, according to the annual crop report from the San Luis Obispo County Department of Agriculture. Thanks to a strong market and weather conditions, grapes edged out strawberries to reclaim their title as the most valuable local crop.

Sally Buffalo writes about wine, beer and spirits. Reach her at sallybuffalo@gmail.com or on Twitter or Instagram @sallybuffalo.

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