Despite all the media chatter concerning climate change and its possible effects on California Wine Country, the 2008 Kendall-Jackson harvest began in earnest over the Labor Day weekend, and appears to be normal and on schedule.
Given the wild weather leading up to September, it’s hard to believe the grape harvest in Kendall-Jackson’s coastal estate vineyards began so uneventfully. Most of Northern California experienced heavy winter rains in January and February. This was followed by an unusually dry spring, highlighted by 28 bone-chilling nights at, or below, the freezing mark.
Then there was a June heat wave and lightning storms, setting off more than 1,000 brush fires statewide. By August, things began to settle down with the more predictable Pacific Ocean summer pattern of cool, moist air flowing into the inland hills and valleys.
“We were hit by torrential rains in December and January,” says Randy Ullom, Kendall-Jackson Winemaster. “Then Mother Nature abruptly turned off the spigot. During April, our managers worked many long nights tending to our vineyard frost protection systems, and in May and June, we faced a series of heat spikes and wind. All this was followed by a series of wildfires in June and July. I don’t know what to expect next — earthquakes or locusts!
“Seriously, though, we’re placing the loss of production from the spring frost at approximately 5 percent, with damage felt in several North Coast vineyards, including Mendocino, Sonoma and Napa counties,” adds Ullom. “Overall, our vineyard managers are telling us that though general tonnage is down across the all varieties, including Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the flavors remain quite high.”
The hot summer weather and wildfires sent consumers nationwide to their phones and email, concerned that the smoke might affect the quality of the 2008 vintage. Though Wine Country choked on thick smoke for several weeks, the grapes are completely unaffected.
In fact, vineyard managers believe the smoke may have actually created a filtering effect, minimizing the ground heat and keeping the solar light from the sun from burning the ripening grapes.
The first truckload of Sauvignon Blanc grapes was received at Kendall-Jackson’s original home winery in Lake County on August 18, coming in at a ripe 24 degrees Brix. By September 2, K-J’s Sonoma County winery began taking delivery of its first Alexander Valley Chardonnay and Merlot grapes. Kendall-Jackson winemakers expect the 2008 harvest to continue through late October.
“With or without global warming, every vintage has its challenges,” notes Ullom. “The harvest is about renewal, optimism and rebirth, and though this is my 16th harvest with Kendall-Jackson, “I just as excited as I was at my first.”