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The 2007 Harvest in Mendocino County

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The 2007 Harvest in Mendocino County 

by Glenn McGourty, Farm Advisor, UCCE 

Winter of 2007 was down right cold. During the second week of January, temperatures plunged into the low teens in many parts of our region. Pumps froze and pipes burst. Everyone going outside dressed with an extra layer. It was also a dry winter. Rainfall totaled less than 20 inches in the Ukiah Valley. Late March and early April started to warm, which brought about early bud break. And then it cooled down again in mid-April, bringing on frosty nights. Many growers frost protected between 2-5 nights as spring advanced. Fortunately, most of the frost events were radiant frosts, and only vineyards in low areas were affected.

Mendocino County Vineyard in Spring

Low humidity and clear nights made the beginning of the growing season a bit dicey, since water supplies for sprinkler frost protection were down in some grower’s ponds. Water supplies were tight for many growers, and some wells went dry late in the season. Bloom occurred almost a week ahead of normal (nearly a month ahead of the previous season). Crop set was average in most vineyards. Some Chardonnay and Pinot noir growers experienced very light crops and poor foliar growth, perhaps due to bud injury from low winter temperatures.

The low humidity throughout the growing season meant very little powdery mildew and bunch rot pressure. Except for a warm spell around July 4th, the growing season had very moderate temperatures. Vines did not become stressed, and there was little sun burn on fruit or shrivel. Insect and mite pests were not a problem in most vineyards. The end result was one of the cleanest crops in recent memory when fruit arrived at the crush pad. Wine makers were pleased with fruit quality. Vines had balanced canopies, fruit typically had small berries and good color.

At first it looked like there would be an accelerated harvest. Many Sauvignon blanc vineyards had lighter than normal crops (20% less fruit) and began to ripen in some vineyards by the third week of August, looking like it would be a speedy harvest. By the first week of September, most wineries were open and doing considerable crushing. In Anderson Valley, an offshore flow of warm air accelerated the sparkling wine harvest. Chardonnay was down in volume in the Ukiah Valley by almost 20% in many vineyards. By mid-September, most of the Chardonnay and white grape harvest was finished. The warm days and cool nights in Anderson Valley were good for Gewurtztraminer, and this year’s wines are developing nicely.

Pinot noir harvest was very good, although some vineyards were light. Cluster counts seemed normal, but fruit set was lighter than usual, and berry size was very small. Most growers were able to bring their fruit in while the weather was warm and dry. In most vineyards, vines were adequately hydrated and there were no dramatic warm temperature spikes to cause raisining or rapid increases in sugars. Winemakers are judging this to be a very good Pinot noir year.

Esterlina Vineyard looking south over Anderson Valley

Then the weather got cloudy and cool. Temperatures dropped from the 90’s to the low 70’s. Wineries were actually happy to get a break from the very rapid pace of white fruit harvest. Things slowed down to gradually make room for the red fruit which was taking its time to ripen. Significant rain fell on October 9th and 10th, making conditions seem very much like a European harvest. Many of the vines began turning color early, and fruit ripened at lower sugar levels with mature brown stems and seeds. Wine makers were very happy with flavors. Zinfandel and Petite Sirah harvest in Redwood Valley and other high elevation areas was late in Mendocino County, and even received some rain. Most growers easily made sugars and rot was minimal. Some growers hanging their Chardonnay crops in the cooler parts of the county had to do some significant culling, but were still able to make quality wine from the harvest.

There were the usual “straggler” vineyards that ripen in late October or early November. Since the weather was relatively dry, most growers were able to fully ripen their fruit and bring it into the wineries in good condition.

It seemed that harvest progressed at a relatively easy pace, and most wineries and their staff had a low stress crush. Overall, wine makers are encouraged by the vintage, as the wines seem to have good acidity, ripeness and color. Market conditions improved for most wine grapes although a few growers had problems selling all of their fruit. There were a few loads that went for very low prices which was unfortunate given the overall quality of the fruit.

If the overall economy remains healthy, 2008 could be a good year for the winegrowing business in Mendocino Counties. Grape buyers are actually once again calling growers! The demand for organic wine grapes and wine is growing, which is a regional specialty. Wine in process seems to be in balance between supply and demand in most wineries. Everyone has their fingers crossed for a good 2008 season. 

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