Although the worst fire season in California history has delayed the raisin grape harvest in the Central Valley, the wine grape harvest has begun in many parts of the state.
The ash and smoke from the fires delayed sugar accumulation in the raisin grape crop, but it has largely avoided the wine grape vineyards, enabling the fruit to ripen pretty much on schedule.
In fact, harvest began a bit early in the North Coast region, which includes parts of Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties. Growers believe that the second consecutive year of drought served to hasten the ripening and likely will result in a smaller-than-average crop — although possibly slightly larger than last year’s.
Mother Nature’s double-whammy began during the winter months when the North
Coast received far less rain than normal. Then as air temperatures increased earlier than normal, the growing season kicked into gear sooner. With an eye toward quality over quantity, growers began “thinning” the fruit so only the best clusters remained on the vines.
It’s a busy and exciting time to visit wineries, as they’re beginning to accept the grapes trucked from the vineyards, hand-sort it for one final quality check, crush it into juice, and ferment the juice into wine. Some will even let visitors witness parts of the process.
But what may be an even better time to visit is during the fall months, when the harvest activities have settled down, the new wine has begun to settle in tanks and barrels, and the scenery is nearly as awe-inspiring as New England with many vineyards taking on colors similar to those of Vermont’s maple trees. Post-summer air temperatures also make it a paradise for bike riders.
First things first, however: The wine grape harvest continues up and down the Golden State, as well as in the Pacific Northwest and in other grape-growing regions of the United States. Here’s hoping it’s successful for all the growers and all the wineries so we have some great 2021 vintage wines to enjoy.