San Luis Obispo County wineries' grape yields are low, but quality is high

Grapes at Talley Vineyard in Arroyo Grande.
Grapes at Talley Vineyard in Arroyo Grande.

Wineries in North County and South County, which began harvesting grapes especially early this year, are reporting low yields but high quality because of weather conditions and the ongoing drought.

The harvest in the Paso Robles area, which normally starts around the last week of August, began about three weeks early this year, with the majority of harvests about 50 percent complete, said Christopher Taranto, communications director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.

Heather Muran, executive director of the San Luis Obispo Wine Country Association, said members have been describing the harvest as “early and light,” reaping lower yields than last year.

Muran said they are predicting intense flavor profiles from the fruit.

Coby Parker-Garcia, winemaker at Claiborne & Churchill Vintners in Edna Valley, said this year is the earliest harvest he’s experienced in his 15 years in the industry. Claiborne & Churchill Vintners is about 92 percent complete with its harvest.

He attributed the early harvest to the drought and warm weather, adding that it’s been a very good quality with low yields.

The cool, wet weather during bloom left Sextant Wines in Paso Robles with a light crop, according to a news release. The wine is expected to be rich and concentrated.

Castoro Cellars in Paso Robles said in a news release that it had a challenging harvest and is experiencing the consequences of the drought and irregular weather patterns. It too reports seeing very small yields and very small berries with concentrated flavors, high sugars and a low pH — or high acid.

“The crop load is lighter across all varieties,” Jeremy Weintraub of Adelaida Cellars in Paso Robles said. “One common feature is the exceptionally high level of acid, which is even greater than historical norms.”

Taranto attributed low yields to a combination of drought and a cold spring during the time of flowering and set. That combination didn’t allow for proper pollination or proper set, causing shatter, when flowering doesn’t mature into a fruit set.

In broad terms, the harvest may end early this year because of its early start, however, changing weather conditions make it nearly impossible to determine an end date, Taranto said. Although dates of harvest vary significantly at each site, he said that harvest typically ends around the first week of November.