Every harvest is an adventure, even in comparatively grape-friendly California. Every grower and winemaker spends at least some time every year worrying about the weather -- late frosts, rain at blossom time, summer heat spikes, rainy fall weather, and so on. Comes with the territory; the wine industry, regardless of its growing technological mastery, remains subject to the rule of the grapes ane of Mama Nature.
Some years are weirder than others, and this one is a doozie. Unusually chilly weather has predominated all up and down the California coastal areas, from Santa Barbara to Paso Robles to Monterey to Mendocino, and through most of Sonoma and Napa. The record chill has been punctuated by tiny outbursts of extreme heat -- one a couple weeks ago, one going on as I write this. Right now, it's just under 100 degrees in St. Helena and Sonoma, which is pushing it; a week from now, highs are predicted to be only in the mid-70s, not enough to ripen anything on schedule.
The generally cool weather means the grapes are late in developing; the explosions of heat mean that a lot of them have some sunburn on the skins, too. Some of them may never get ripe; many growers are hurriedly dropping fruit to make sure that what's left has a fighting chance to achieve full ripeness.
The chill has brought fog with it. A little fog at night helps cool vineyards that are sunny during the day, and can be a plus. Fog all day in places that don't usually harbor it -- and don't have persistent winds to blow it away -- is a recipe for mildew. This is something humid areas in Europe, like Bordeaux, fight with every year; here, it's a novelty, and not in a good way. More crop to drop, or just dispense with.
Oh, and then there's the grape quarantine. Small infestations of the European Grape Vine Moth have been found in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino. This is not a helpful insect friend, and controlling its spread is a high priority. To that end, affected areas cannot just ship out grapes at harvest time, since they could carry moths or larvae or eggs; the grapes have to be crushed on site and only then hauled elsewhere, all by certified compliant producers and carriers.
A nice -- if you'll pardon the expression in this context -- write-up on all this came out via email today from Brehm Vineyards, probably the continent's largest supplier of premium grapes for home winemakers (and many small commercial outfits). If you're a home winemaker, you probably known Brehm already; even if you're not, the Grape Mail blasts at harvest time are worth receiving. Alas, the quarantine info is only in the email., but here's the gist.
Lots of Brehm grapes come from affected areas, which means the operation will not be handing out whole grape clusters this year, something many homies prefer so that they can do the entire process themselves. Fortunately, Brehm has a nice crush facility, so nobody will be left grapeless.But I'm planning to get some Arneis from a grower in Mendocino County, and some Zinfandel from a home vineyard in Dry Creek, both in the quarantine zone. And am I a certified anything? No. And am I sure how I'm going to get these babies -- if they ever
ripen at all -- to my garage? Nope -- not yet.