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By SANDRA SINCLAIR
The California wine industry as a whole continues to struggle in 2011, with a smaller wine grape harvest replacing the grape gluts of prior years. Weather played a major role during the year, creating a potential shortage of grapes in some regions. Unlike 2003-4, where an over-abundance of wine grapes led to higher-than-normal wine inventories and subsequent discounts as winemakers attempted to reduce inventory, the 2011 harvest may find consumers looking at reduced inventory over the next year or two.
The 2010 wine grape crush tonnage was down slightly from the year before, declining to approximately 3.9 million tons or 3%, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and this trend is likely to continue in the 2011 harvest season. Red wine accounted for the largest of all grape crush in 2010 with 2.1 million tons, and white wine varietals saw 1.5 million tons crushed during the same year. The California Department of Food and Agriculture forecasts a 9% harvest decline in 2011 wine grape yield, trending down to 3.3 million tons.
In the Lodi wine region, wine grape harvest ran approximately three weeks behind what vintners consider a normal harvest schedule, according to Mark Chandler of the Wine Commission in Woodbridge, CA. Heavy spring rains and another cooler-than normal summer keep wine makers from harvesting their vines, but the unusually mild weather may have the positive effect of intensifying grape flavors and improving quality.
“In terms of the 2011 growing season, it was a remarkably cool season. We thought 2010 was a cool season, but 2011 was cooler yet. We had a full summer of 85 degree high temperatures, so the vines really enjoyed those conditions throughout the growing season. Yield has been average, but we expect great quality out of this vintage overall,’ state Chandler.
Aaron Kidder of Kidder Family Winery in Lodi confirms weather impacted local wine grape harvest. The cool spring and mild summer created almost “Sonoma-like” conditions in the area, according to Kidder. He’s noticed reduced tonnage for most varietals in the region, and a slightly higher incidence of berry shot – small, green and unpollinated grapes present along with the regular size grape berries. “My Syrah crop is good this year, but there is lower tonnage,” said Kidder.
But it isn’t just the growing season causing problems for the growers and vintners alike. Early October rain damaged some of the grapes still ripening on the vine. “The recent rains wreaked havoc. Completely unexpected, creating problems with split berry and rot in some of the varietals,” said Kidder.
Jeremy Trettevik, owner and winemaker at Jeremy Wine Company in Lodi, agrees. Harvesting his Barbera, he commented on how the early season rain damaged the wine grape potentials for 2011. “Before the rain, it looked beautiful. The grapes were of good quality. The grapes coming in after the rain? Well, the quality doesn’t look as good as last year, but we won’t know until it gets in the barrel,” Trettevik commented.
Chandler confirms the rains did impact the remaining grapes, but only a small percentage of wine grape harvest remained on the vine when the rain came.
“Any time you get rains this late in the season, you worry about what’s out there in the vineyard. But the quality is still good. It was just the last 10% or so of the crop impacted by the early rains; even so, the negative impact is variety specific. Cabernet can shrug off wet harvest, but petite syrah not so much. On balance, it will be an excellent year.”