Vineyard & Winery Management

January - February 2012

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Page 45 of 139

HARVEST REPORT was ample moisture stored in the soil from the winter and spring rains. Since there was rain well into the growing season, vine canopies were very green and healthy in most areas, right into harvest and beyond. Canopy management (leaf pulling and sterile shoot removal) was critically important to mini- mize powdery mildew, a plague for many growers in 2011. Some grow- ers found that their usual fungicide program to control mildew wasn't enough, and that extra sprays and some "rescue" wash-downs with potassium bicarbonate or stylet oil were needed to clean up mildew outbreaks that weren't controlled by the usual preventative spray pro- grams. Harvest started slowly and became slower for a while. Spar- kling-wine harvest in the North Coast was easily three weeks late. The fruit was of surprisingly good quality, but with a bit more acid than winemakers wanted. Interior areas were also delayed, and har- vest crept along at a slower pace due to the very temperate weather. On Oct. 4, significant precipita- tion occurred in many winegrow- ing regions. Mendocino and Lake counties had more than 2 inches of rain. Other areas had less rain, but it was enough to start some seri- ous rot problems in many vineyards planted to sensitive varieties such as chardonnay, petite sirah and zinfandel. The interior valleys had harvested most white grapes and many of their red varieties, bring- ing in nice crops with lower yields, yet good sugars and acids. These wines will be better than normal for the region due to the cooler weath- er. Sour rot was a bit of a problem for some of the red varieties with tight clusters. When the rains came, coastal areas still had most of the crop – 50%-80% – hanging in the vine- yards. Mornings stayed foggy, with temperatures in the low 60s, and days were mostly overcast. On Oct. 10, there was a lighter storm that caused Botrytis infections to explode. In some vineyards, crops were a complete loss. Others were 46 VINEYARD & WINERY MANAGEMENT JAN - FEB 2012 selectively picked and the fruit brought in, but there were signifi- cant yield losses. Harvest crews and wineries worked around the clock, using both machines and hand crews to salvage as much as they could from the rot-sensitive varieties. Even normally rain-resis- tant varieties such as cabernet sau- vignon and syrah were damaged. The wine will be sold on the bulk market, which should be a lively one in 2012. Pinot noir, chardonnay and sau- vignon blanc vineyards in Carneros and the Russian River area in both Sonoma and Mendocino coun- ties were greatly affected by the wet weather. Crop set was light to begin with in many vineyards. Botrytis was a serious issue in California vineyards. Fortunately, the weather turned dry and warm in a classic Indian summer pattern. Sugars rose and the crops were gradually brought in. By the first week of November, most wineries had received all of the fruit that they were going to accept, and the harvest was fin- ished. The heroes of this vintage are the experienced winemakers who realized that they were operating under abnormal circumstances for a California harvest. Those who had experienced the 1982, 1983, 1989 and 1998 harvests were much more comfortable with rainy vintag- es and knew how to deal with fruit that was somewhat compromised by Botrytis. Some growers whose fruit was refused by their winery custom- ers brought their crops to custom- crush facilities where the damaged fruit was processed, cleaned up by various techniques, fermented and made into surprisingly good wine. Growers struggled to control mil- dew. By the time the rains did their damage, small crops became even smaller. The best news for growers who had fruit for sale was that the win- eries actually began to return their phone calls. Due to the frosts in the Central Coast and light crops in many places, fruit supplies were smaller than anticipated, and win- eries shopped for grapes. Prices recovered from some abysmally low levels paid in 2010, and some wineries will not be able to main- tain the inventories required for ful- fillment for all of their customers. For those who prefer more Euro- pean-style wines, 2011 is your year. Winemakers were surprised that despite lower-than-usual sugars, the tannin maturation of many red grapes was very good, and the fruit tasted ripe and ready to ferment. Fruit was initially a bit low on pH with too much acid, but as the sea- son progressed, acidity decreased WWW.VWM-ONLINE.COM

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