Grape harvest begins
WORKERS AT HUNTER FARMS kicked off the harvest season picking pinot grapes in Glen Ellen.
Engulfed in darkness and the early morning mist, vineyard workers officially launched the 2011 grape harvest on Wednesday morning in Hunter Farms' Glen Ellen fields, which will ultimately end up as bubbles in Gloria Ferrer's sparkling wine.
"That's usually the first fruit that comes in," Steven Urberg, winemaker at Gloria Ferrer, said of Hunter Farms. "We're just about two weeks later than average. But we're coming in at the same time we did last year with the late harvest."
The generally cool summer has slowed the grapes' development, and many wineries are waiting to pick until sometime in September.
"They are slow to develop," said David Cook, proprietor of Cook Vineyard Management. "The good news is we're starting to get some warm weather."
The pinot grapes used to produce sparkling wine are almost always the first to come off the vine, which was exactly what workers at Hunter Farms were picking. Urberg said the cool weather has been ideal for pinot and chardonnay grapes used to make sparkling wines, and the quality is looking excellent.
"With this long, cool summer, there was a lot of hang-time out there, which is good," he said. "These cool, foggy mornings keep the grapes cool which slows ripening ... They have more time to metabolize their sugars."
While quality is looking promising, quantity is noticeably down. Cook said the early summer rains seem to be demonstrating their impact. Growers feared that the wet weather would damage the flowers, decreasing the yield of fruit this year.
"We just have less berries than we should," Cook said. "We could be anywhere from 15 to 20 percent lower than last year."
But Cook agreed that the overall quality of the fruit is showing lots of potential. "Generally you have higher quality when you have a lighter crop," he said.
The moist, foggy mornings have not showed signs of damaging the grape clusters with mold, but vineyard managers are keeping a close eye on the fields, reluctant to lose anymore grapes this year. They are also closely monitoring heat levels, careful not to let the fruit over-ripen in a heat snap, which happened last year.
"When you do have these lighter crops, it does ripen more quickly in the heat," Cook said.