Colder-than-average temperatures over the winter and early rains and cool temperatures this fall will likely mean fewer grapes in this year’s harvest, San Luis Obispo County growers say.
But the grapes harvested may be of an exceptionally high quality.
The wine grape crop is one of the largest moneymakers for the county, worth about $152 million, according to the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
In a typical year, grapes are picked from Labor Day to Halloween, starting with the early ripening Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and other whites, found mostly in Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande, and ending with Cabernet, Zinfandels and other reds in the Paso Robles area.
Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande growers say they’ve kept to their average season. But North County growers say their later-maturing grapes have taken up to twice as long to pick off the vine because of the odd weather.
“The word I’d use to describe what we’ve got right now is ‘long,’
and we’ve still got a way to go,” said Mitch Wyss, winegrower for 250 acres at Halter Ranch Vineyard near Adelaida.
Wyss estimated his grape harvesting may take as much as 12 weeks -twice as long as average.
Leslie Melendez, winemaker for EOS Estate Winery in Paso Robles, also noted an out-of-the-ordinary harvest.
“We had a hot spell early in the harvest,” she said. “So we started off fast and furious with our whites, and a lot of our Chardonnay came in, then we were hit with two-and-a-half weeks of a cold spell that slowed down the Cabernets, Zinfandels and Petite Sirahs.”
“The vines thought they were going into dormancy and actually went backward. Then the rains came and slowed everything down again. Now, all of sudden, everything’s coming ready all at once. We’re picking like crazy, and our tanks are full to the gills.”
Melendez estimated it may take as long as another month more to harvest about 1,100 tons of grapes still on the vine – a third of EOS’
No matter where the grapes are located, what type of wine they produce, or how long it will take to get them off the vine, all grape crops in the county have been reduced by the extreme dips in temperature and lack of rain last winter.
“It’s made for smaller berries and clusters,” Wyss said. “Our crop production may be down anywhere from 30 to 50 percent.”
George Donati, who manages 1,800 acres of vineyards in Edna Valley, estimates at least a 10 percent loss in tonnage.
“All our berries are really small this year,” he said, “and that’s affecting everything.”