Crush: “quality over quantity” this year

WINE LOVERS MAY BE ONE OF THE few beneficiaries of the long dry spell in California, at least for one more year.

Just as every cloud has a silver lining, the drought is causing the vines to produce smaller grapes, which results in more concentrated sugars and flavors. Vintages during dry years tend to garner better ratings than rainier years.

Vintners and growers around the state— from Napa Valley to our Sierra Vintners wineries—are predicting an excellent vintage this year.
They picked their wine grapes much earlier than normal, avoiding the problems with autumn storms that interfere with the harvest and damage the crop.

While acknowledging the benefits of the dryer weather, at least for wine quality, the producers are hopeful for a normal year of rain in 2016. Even though grapevines are drought tolerant, they can be damaged over time from a lack of water.

A smaller grape crop also is reducing the tonnage. The 2014 crush totaled 4.1 million tons, down about 12 percent from the record high 2013 crush of 4.7 million tons, according to the USDA.

This year’s dry spell resulted in an early bud break, followed by a long, flowering and fruit set period, culminating in one of the earliest harvests in a decade.

At wineries such as Naggiar Vineyards & Winery in Grass Valley, laborers pick grapes at night, guided by bright lights mounted on tractors. “We go from midnight until about 8 a.m.,” says owner Mike Naggiar.

White wine grapes are picked first, then the reds, then the dessert wines.

The harvest season is idyllic. Sometimes a winery dog, such as Marsy at Pilot Peak Winery, tags along. At other wineries, such as Sierra Starr in Grass Valley, the Starr grandchildren play in the vineyards. Smith Vineyard in Grass Valley is “four generations strong,” and the grandchildren join the rest of the family during crush.

The wineries celebrate their harvests with festivals, including grape stomping, music, wine and food pairings and carriage rides.

(Photo: Chris Smith)

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