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California 2022 harvest variable but quality predictions high

Following an uneven growing season, producers across the state are reporting lower yields but of high-quality fruit, pointing to the potential for a great vintage.

Given the sheer climatic diversity, the California 2022 harvest was a story of variability, specific varieties and varied approaches to making it all work out. Yields are down, nearly across the board. Still, winemakers and vineyard managers report high-quality fruit throughout the state, and the prediction is that the potential for fantastic, complex wines is high.

There was tremendous variability up and down (as well as across) the state. An uneven growing season, with uneven effects throughout California’s wine regions, meant a little bit of everything.

While it began with a dry winter, the spring of 2022 saw rains return. A wet March and April led to earlier than typical bud break. Spring frosts, in both April and May, complicated things for much of the state, reducing yields in many AVAs. Areas like Lodi and the Sierra Foothills found the frosts particularly challenging.

The vintage was also significantly marked by an eight to 10 day heat wave around the first week of September. In some cases, this forced winegrowers to act fast and juggle picking fruit at a breakneck pace. Finding available barrels or fermentation tanks as incoming fruit arrived took on a Tetris-like challenge for some producers. The heat wave also slowed things down in some cases as the vines shut down in the more extreme temperatures.

Bacigalupi Vineyards (Russian River Valley, Sonoma) night harvesting. Credit: Justin Liddell, Destination Films

Napa Valley

California’s most famous region escaped the worst of the spring frost and saw earlier-than-average pick dates driven by the early September heat wave. Temperatures were as high as 43 to 47°C  in different parts of the valley. Yet cooler nights, with temperatures dropping to 14°C in some cases, meant most grape varieties fared well.

The significant rainfall at the end of 2021 in Napa Valley set vineyards up for a strong vintage, with the pace of picking challenging at times. Many winemakers called 2022 ‘wild’. The early returns are very positive, with wine quality expected to be high across white and red varieties.

Sonoma County

Despite an early February bud break, Sonoma County faced a relatively mild 2022. The warm autumn weather made for excellent phenolic ripeness, with winegrowers reporting a start a week or two ahead of average. Yields were down slightly, and both berries and clusters were smaller, signalling wines of concentration. Winemakers across the board appear to be delighted with this year’s harvest in Sonoma.

Paso Robles

Paso was mainly unaffected by the early-season frosts, but cooler temperatures and high winds later in spring made for some challenges during fruit set. A mostly mild summer saw multiple heat spikes in August and September, creating picking decision challenges further complicated by rain immediately following. The heat and drought saw yields down as much as 30%. Winemakers are optimistic about the concentration found in the smaller clusters that the 2022 vintage gave them in Paso.

Santa Barbara

Despite a very challenging harvest accented by myriad climatic hurdles, winemakers in Santa Barbara are bullish on the 2022 vintage there, particularly for varieties that were picked early. In Santa Barbara, the heat wave impact was mostly seen in the canopies, and so grapes had lower-than-expected sugar levels after such a heat event. The late September rains also pushed sugar levels back for late-ripening varieties.

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