HEALDSBURG (AP) — In Northern California’s wine country, the 2015 harvest has arrived shockingly early, amid years of drought that have progressively shifted vines’ growing season earlier into the year.
Winemakers are scrambling to keep pace, and many worry about the financial implications of an extremely low-yielding crop, the San Francisco Chronicle reports Sunday (http://bit.ly/1Jl8IT4).
“I’ve been making wine for 38 years, and this is the second-earliest harvest I’ve ever seen,” said Eileen Crane, CEO and winemaker of Domaine Carneros, who began picking on July 31.
Many growers of Pinot Noir in Sonoma and Mendocino counties, and in cool pockets of Santa Barbara, are already well into their harvest.
John Bucher, of Bucher Vineyard in Healdsburg, says that he usually starts picking Pinot the first week of September but this year he’ll be done by the end of August.
It “sounds crazy — to finish before we typically start,” he said.
Not only has the harvest come early, it’s progressing more quickly and the yields are low. In many cases, especially for Pinot producers, a picking schedule that would stretch over a month is being condensed into about a week.
The drought is among several factors contributing to this unusual vintage.
An early 2014 harvest pushed up the 2015 growing season. Drought conditions — a warm, dry winter — then accelerated budbreak, which marks the beginning of a vine’s life cycle.
Grape growers emphasized that although this year’s harvest is early, it doesn’t mean that the growing season was short. The grapes are physiologically mature, and the advantage of having ripe levels of sugars in early August, rather than early September, is that they retain more acid. As a result, the vintage shows the potential for both richness and elegance — a winemaker’s ideal.
And despite the small crop, 2015 wine prices are not expected to rise since premium wine producers can generally absorb the costs incurred by lower yields because their bottle prices are high enough.