Vines finishing strong
HARVESTED ZINFANDEL GRAPES stack up at the White Perry Vineyard on Seventh Street East. The grapes are destined for the Buena Vista Winery
Chances are you’ve seen plenty of smiles on the faces of grape growers all season long. To hear those who have been tending vines for decades in the Sonoma Valley tell it, this year has been one for the ages. It’s as if Mother Nature, after a couple of years of meteorological mischief, suddenly picked up a UC Davis textbook and decided to cooperate. Everything has gone the grapes’ way.
“They’ve had a pretty cush vintage,” said Andrew Avellar of Carneros Vineyard Management and Scribe Winery. “The heat spikes really haven’t been that hot. The frost wasn’t that cold. And the winds weren’t that much, so they’ve had a pretty easy time this year compared to the last two vintages.”
If things keep up, expect to see even more happy (and relieved) faces in the coming week as the grapes make it through their final challenge – the first rains of the season.
The growing season came out of the gate quickly, but things slowed down a bit with a mostly cool August. At this point, most vineyards are picked and growers are on schedule to finish harvest by the beginning of November.
And now that harvest is winding down and the juice is flowing, there have been some winemaker grins to match those of the growers. David Cook, of Cook Vineyard Management, said, “We really feel like we have higher quality with high tonnage this year. It’s been a good year all around.”
Cook, who’s had an even more hectic harvest than usual, since he is also a candidate for Sonoma’s City Council this year, finished picking the century-old zinfandel vines at the Pagani Ranch in Glen Ellen last week, where he reported a banner year. He said this was the first season that the frost control fans at Pagani didn’t need to be turned on once since they’ve started using them. “The fruit just tastes wonderful,” he said. “It just explodes in your mouth.”
Cook’s crews also harvested another historic zinfandel vineyard last week when they picked the White Perry Vineyard adjacent to Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma. The vineyard is on the site of one of Buena Vista founder Count Agoston Haraszthy’s original plantings from the 1850s, and though the zinfandel vines don’t go back quite that far, there are a few historic riesling vines on the property. The zinfandel were delivered to the original Buena Vista Winery (now owned by Jean-Charles Boisset) for the first time in 40 years. Boisset Family Estates Winegrower Eric Pooler surveyed the historic riesling vines during the pick (even harvesting a few symbolic clusters that went into this year’s zinfandel) and planned to propagate a small block right next to the restored Buena Vista Champagne Cellars.
“The warm weather we had at the end of the season helped get the sugars up in some of the cabs and zinfandels, which allowed us to pick before the rains came in,” said Cook. “It was great that we had that hot weather last week to ripen everything up.”
With the rains coming, Cook’s crews, like most, scrambled Sunday to finish zinfandel picks, but will still have cabernet hanging through the first real moisture of the season. “Cabernet can take a little bit of rain,” said Cook. “We wish that it wouldn’t happen, so we’d be done next week, but it’ll settle the dust a little bit. So we’re not too concerned.” Cook plans to have harvest wrapped by Nov. 1.
Steve Sangiacomo says yields on the Sangiacomo Vineyards have been up across the board, estimating a 13 percent increase, but not what he’d describe as a “bumper crop.” Going into the weekend, Sangiacomo had just some merlot and chardonnay hanging, but after picking through the weekend, his harvest wrapped up before the rains hit Monday, thanks to the heat spikes getting his fruit what he called “optimal ripeness.”
“It’s been a perfect growing season,” reiterated David Cook. “Vintage 2012 was probably one of the best years that I had in the last 20 years farming here in Sonoma. Kind of sad to see it end.”
The first real test for the grapes came in battering rains late Sunday night and into early Monday morning. But if this year’s crop continues its charmed life, we can expect some swift breezes to dry things out and then a little bit of warmth after that. The forecast calls for intermittent rains tapering off Thursday with a slight warming trend going into the weekend.
“We’ve had quite a bit of experience dealing with rain the last few vintages,” Andrew Avellar said. After picking through the weekend, Avellar had some Bordeaux varieties and a little bit of chardonnay still hanging. “We know the grapes will handle this first rain reasonably well. The first four or five days after the rain, there’s generally no effects. Once the rain stops, we’ll continue picking and we’ll have all the fruit in before its affected,” he said.
Avellar looked forward to a window of about four or five days after the first rain, with hopefully low humidity and not second rain. “It’s usually that second rain that causes things to deteriorate quickly, he said, but the best thing that could happen – and there’s no reason to believe that grapes won’t continue their charmed lives – is that wind followed by a little warmth and no real rain for a few days, then,” said Avellar, “We’ll bring everything in, and it’ll be beautiful. It’ll be a great way to end the season.”