Harvest heats up
It’s being heralded as the best harvest in more than a decade, but grape growers had their hands full last week thanks to record temperatures for the fall.
“It was pretty crazy last week,” said Mike Nuñez, who oversees around 200 acres in Napa and Sonoma counties as the owner of Nuñez Vineyard Management.
As temperatures inched toward triple digits last Tuesday, the sugar content in the fruit went through the roof, sending grapes from nearly there to fully ripe almost overnight. Vineyard managers said it was a challenge to coordinate picking crews to hit all of their clients at breakneck speed.
“We did a lot of night picking, which has become pretty standard. But we couldn’t accommodate every request at night. Some nights, as soon as we finished we headed to another vineyard for day-picking,” Nuñez said, explaining that his crews averaged 16 hours of picking every day last week.
To complicate the situation, sweeping labor shortages in the agricultural sector made it difficult for some growers to find workers to harvest the grapes. For those who did get the grapes off in time, there was an issue of space. The harvest yield is up significantly for most varieties and some wineries literally ran out of room in their storage tanks.
“The yield is up 30 percent on average,” Nuñez said.
Steve Urberg, winemaker at Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards, said pinot noir grapes have been especially fruitful, with yields 25 percent above average. He said it was a needed change over last year, which saw crop volumes drop anywhere from 20 percent to 60 percent.
“We had a lot more fruit this year, which will help cover the gap created last year,” he said. On Monday, Urberg said Gloria Ferrer wrapped up its harvest season for the year for both sparkling and still wines.
Outside of the heat spike that sent production into overdrive, the growers agree this has been one of the easiest years in memory. There were no heavy frosts or late-season rains to damage blooms on the vine, summer proved warm but not too hot and, assuming the wet season doesn’t blow in too early, growers are feeling good.
“The weather was perfectly cooperative,” Urberg said. “The quality is looking great.”
Nuñez agreed, saying, “This is probably one of the smoothest growing seasons I can remember.”
Nuñez said he began harvesting sparkling wine grapes for Mum in Napa on Aug. 11, and has picked consistently every day since then.
“That is very rare,” he said, explaining that the unpredictable weather usually makes a steady schedule impossible. “I’ve actually been able to get some sleep this year … Usually I go two or three days with just a few hours (of sleep).”