Many winemakers in California believe the state's drought will not drastically affect this year's harvest, which they say is running two weeks early and is expected to yield a healthy crop.
Harvest begins at Mumm Napa. Photo credit: Mumm Napa / Napa Valley Vintners
Napa Valley Vintners said sparkling wine producers in its area were set to begin harvesting this week. It said that it was expecting an ‘abundant’ 2014 harvest in general across Napa, albeit one not expected to equal the bumper vintages of 2013 and 2012.
There have been concerns that California‘s drought, which led to a state of emergency being declared at the turn of the year, could impact the region’s grapevines.
If there is a noticeable effect on quantity, then it is likely to be around Paso Robles, which has endured some of the worst water stress.
Chris Taranto, of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, told Decanter.com that some winemakers were predicting a 25% drop versus 2013. Even so, this is a relatively light hit compared to the 60% fall in harvest size in 2011, following severe frost.
Elsewhere, the record-breaking dry winter appears to have caused fewer problems, predominantly thanks to well-timed rain in the growing season.
‘Late and very welcome spring rains set us up well in this otherwise dry year,’ said Ludovic Dervin, winemaker for Mumm Napa.
‘Although California has been experiencing a drought, spring rainfall occurred at just the right time to replenish our soils and reservoirs allowing for the development of healthy canopies,’ said Remi Cohen, vice president of operations overseeing winegrowing at Cliff Lede Vineyards in Napa’s Stags Leap District. ‘A warm, even spring and summer allowed for a good set and uniform, early maturation.’
The drought, though, means that he is expecting lots of small berries due to lower water supply, which should make for more concentrated wines.
Lack of a major frost has also helped growers.
‘The vines came out strong in the spring, and we had no frost that would require our growers to use their water for frost protection,’ said Axel Schug, managing partner at Schug winery in Carneros. ‘The vines and fruit look very healthy, maybe a little on the early side.’
Alison Crowe, winemaker at Garnet Vineyards, which sources grapes from Russian River, Sonoma Coast and Napa and Sonoma Carneros AVAs, said, ‘The crop size overall is looking to be healthy but certainly not as big as 2012 or 2013. Knock on a lot of wood, it’s been an almost textbook growing season. The North Coast suffered hardly any frost events and this Spring and Summer have been warm and mild.’
Doug Shafer, at Shafer Vineyards, said the crop looks normal and quality is looking good, even if not the size of the last two years. ‘We had two very heavy crop years in 2012 and 2013, so there is no way that 2014 would ever be a “heavy” year,’ he added.
An average-sized harvest may help some winemakers, after reports last autumn that some producers were struggling to make space for two consecutive bumper crops.
Crowe said the true effects of the drought may not be seen until next year. ‘Our North Coast vineyards seem to have enough water to get them through harvest, but we need a nice wet winter to keep all the vines, farmers and winemakers happy,’ she said.
Right now, because of the early harvest, ‘the only thing winemakers are freaking out about is going straight from bottling the 2013s into harvest 2014,’ said Chris Kajani, winemaker for Saintsbury in Carneros.
Written by Chris Mercer