A bounty of grapes in the Sierra Foothills for latest season

THE WINE HARVEST SEASON IS UPON US, AND MOST Sierra foothills growers are predicting a bumper crop, thanks to mild weather, a burst of summer rainfall and no frost damage.

This year’s grape harvest is expected to last through mid-October, led by Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Tempranillo, then Syrah, Zin and Grenache, and last, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, says Lynn Wilson, co-owner and winemaker at Pilot Peak Vineyard and Winery in Penn Valley.

The bountiful harvest is a welcome reprieve from last year, when a wicked spring frost wiped out 30 percent of some grower’s crops.

“Everything has come together just about perfectly,” says Mark Henry, owner of Montoliva Vineyards and Winery. “We didn’t experience any frost after bud-break, heavier than usual rains in early May gave the vines a long, thirst-quenching drink, and temperatures this summer have been just about perfect, staying between 85 to 90 degrees, except for a couple of 100 degree days in late July.”

As a result, it looks to be a banner year for Montoliva, located in the agricultural hamlet of Chicago Park. Montoliva is in its ninth year, so the vines are starting to hit their stride.

“It looks to be a very good vintage for us,” says Jack Starr, assistant winemaker and vineyard manager at Sierra Starr Vineyard and Winery. “We Starr’s can’t wait to start picking.”

The same optimism abounds at wineries throughout the Sierra foothills, stretching from Avanguardia near the South Yuba River, to Naggiar in southern Nevada County, and all the way south to the growers in Placer, El Dorado and Amador counties.

“Industry pundits are projecting one of the biggest harvests in California since 1985,” says Wilson.
The wineries are not without their challenges. The anticipated bumper crop comes during a long-lasting recession, and many wine drinkers are trading down to less expensive bottles.

Wine growers remain upbeat, however, betting that increased wine consumption eventually will translate into higher sales for fine wine.

As Wilson reminds us, “Given the number of agricultural and economic variables in play, grape growing and wine
making is sometimes more akin to gambling in Vegas than the smotth flowing production operation most would prefer.”

(Photos by John Johnson)

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