For many commodity crops, this harvest was one for the books. Same goes for winegrowers in California. Following a long growing season characterized by moderate temperatures throughout the spring and summer, California’s 2018 harvest played out like a dream for winegrowers in regions across the state. Harvest began anywhere from 10 days to three weeks later than in 2017, and vintners are reporting exceptional quality, thanks to consistent growing conditions and cooler temperatures, which allowed the grapes to mature slowly.
A few regions experienced issues with heat spikes, but most reported even temperatures throughout the season with little-to-no frost damage. As the season drew to a close, vintners braced for a compacted harvest of later-ripening varieties in early October. Vintners reported abundant yields in line with the USDA’s August forecast of 4.1 million tons in 2018, up 2 percent from 2017, and above the historical average of 3.9 million tons. Overall, vintners are enthusiastic about both the quality and quantity of the 2018 vintage.
THE GROWING SEASON
“The mild summer weather allowed fruit to mature slowly without heat stress, and canopies are looking healthy,” said John Killebrew, winemaker for Z. Alexander Brown winery in Napa. “Crop levels looked good and quality appears very high, with balanced sugar, acid and tannin levels.”
Like many wineries in the North Coast region, Napa’s Black Stallion Estate Winery began picking two weeks later than in 2017. “Fortunately, compared to previous years, we did not see any major heat waves in the early part of harvest, so the fruit ripened evenly and stress-free,” said winemaker Ralf Holdenried.
Dennis Cakebread, chairman and senior vice president of sales and marketing for Cakebread Cellars in Rutherford, Napa Valley, reported normal to above-average yields and high-quality fruit. “We’re really happy with the grapes,” he said. “They have good flavor and balance.”
Mark Burningham, director of grower relations for Benziger Family Winery in Glen Ellen, Sonoma County, is equally optimistic about the 2018 vintage. “This is one of those years where everyone is happy,” he said. “Yields are up and quality is excellent, thanks to the moderate temperatures and dry conditions.”
In Lodi, vintners began picking old-vine Zinfandel mid-September. “This year we’ve seen a later bud break, set and veraison, followed by a hot July and a cool August,” said Stuart Spencer of St. Amant Winery. “The cool temperatures in mid- to late-September led to gradual sugar accumulation and good flavor development. In general, we saw better flavors at lower sugars and the quality looks great.”
So worry not mom of five, college students, and winos everywhere, an abundant harvest means more relaxing time in the future.