Home Industry News Releases Harvest Begins in Paso Robles Wine Country

Harvest Begins in Paso Robles Wine Country

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White grapes are ‘on schedule;’ reds are coming on a touch later than normal, in general. But the current heat spike may increase pressure to pick to mitigate stress on the grapes. The rainy winter and cool start to summer bolstered leaf growth in the canopy, but grape yields have not necessarily increased. In Walla Walla, Wash., farmers will be plucking the first of their white grapes next week.

August 29, 2017 (Paso Robles, Caif.) – Solterra Strategies, a boutique public relations firm representing wineries in Paso Robles, Santa Barbara and Walla Walla, is happy to provide an update from several of our Paso winery clients as the 2017 harvest gets underway.

Winemakers are picking white grapes in Paso Robles, such as Viognier and Grenache Blanc, as well as certain under-ripe reds for Rosé wines. Harvest of Paso’s mainstay reds (Rhône, Bordeaux, Zinfandel), is expected to begin after Labor Day and stretch to mid September. Many producers in Santa Barbara are well underway, harvesting Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

The wet winter, cool early summer, and warm summer sunshine throughout July and August, provided optimal growing conditions throughout the Central Coast. Overall, winemakers are optimistic about quality and yields, with no significant factors like frost, rain, or prolonged heat exposure.

The rainy winter has increased leaves in the canopy and helped restore vine health and balance after years of acute drought. The heat wave this week (August 28) will push sugars to optimum ripening as winemakers hold out for full flavor development. The possible shortage of workers has some producers concerned, and is leading to more discussions of increasing automation for the future.

Q: When did/will the 2017 harvest begin for you? What varieties will be first?

Bob Tillman / Alta Colina:
I anticipate harvesting Grenache for Rosé the week of August 28, and Grenache Blanc probably the week of August 28.

Joe Barton / Barton + Grey Wolf:
Looks like harvest will start first week of September.  For us Viognier, Zinfandel and Syrah off the hillsides will come off first.  Looks like sugar/acid balance is tracking well.

Kevin Jusilla / kukkula winery:
Harvest did start for us Saturday, August 12, with our Viognier. We’re going to harvest our Grenache Blanc this Thursday, August 24.

Kevin Sass / Halter Ranch:
Harvest for reds should begin for us just after Labor Day. Syrah and Grenache will come off first.

Steve Lock / Écluse Wines:
Our whites will obviously be first, but are probably later than in the past couple of years.  It looks like we’ll pick Grenache Blanc, Viognier and then Chardonnay soon. 

Q: Are you earlier, or later than normal?

Bob Tillman / Alta Colina:
It’s been a strange year.  Heat summation units (so called Growing Degree Days) are running ahead of last year.  Usually vine growth/ripening closely track the accumulation of heat through the year.  However, in spite of being 2-3 weeks ahead in GDD, veraison came about two weeks later than usual.  Coupled with benign weather in August, we should be able to hang the red fruit longer than usual—should be good for phenolic development.  Bottom line—it’s going to be a later year.

Joe Barton / Barton + Grey Wolf:
I would say we are historically a little early, but the late August cool weather should push things out a little bit.  That being said, average harvest times seem to have been trending earlier this decade.  

Kevin Jusilla / kukkula winery:
Our whites are about normal, but the reds all appear to be hanging at least two weeks behind the last several years. The last four years we were already harvesting our Zin and Syrah by the middle of August.

Kevin Sass / Halter Ranch:
Average. The warm year is being off set by a slightly larger crop, so things have balanced each other out.

Steve Lock / Écluse Wines:
We are definitely later on the whites, and it’s too early to tell on the reds.

Q: How does timing play into winemaking choices?

Bob Tillman / Alta Colina:
I haven’t seen two years that are alike yet, and this will be our 11th harvest.  Timing of the pick is crucial—too soon and the phenolics are not there leading to a dull wine; too late and the acids fade giving a flabby wine. We use as much technology as possible to make the picking decision, but it finally comes down to what we taste in the vineyard.

Joe Barton / Barton + Grey Wolf:
I feel like we trying to find a balance between physiological ripeness and flavor development.  We are trying showcase the finesse in our wines, but warmer seasons tend to push more concentrated flavors.  It’s a great problem to have.  It gives winemakers in California a larger canvass for expressing their style. 

Kevin Jusilla / kukkula winery:
In general, it appears that the growing seasons have become warmer and starting earlier. This year, with a rain total of 43 inches, and a cool, wet April/May period, bud break was late, so the growing season seems to have shifted a bit. I think it’s too early to say this is a new norm. If anything, this could be an anomaly of a new norm (earlier and hotter). The later start has me trying to finish up other things we generally don’t get done because we drop everything else for the harvest. It also has allowed me to comb through the vineyard to drop some more fruit that I wouldn’t otherwise have done this late. Especially in Grenache, as it looks like we could be hanging for another 5-6 weeks.

Kevin Sass / Halter Ranch:
Yes, this is the new norm. Drought and smaller crop loads have caused earlier harvests, but even with 44 inches of rain this year, we are still picking in early September.
Steve Lock / Écluse Wines:
The timing of harvest does not impact our winemaking choices. We operate on the idea that, after working hard in the vineyard for nine months, we will take what it gives us and when it gives the fruit to us.

Q: Any initial impressions about the fruit (lighter, complexity, sugars) and overall yield?

Bob Tillman / Alta Colina:
This year we teamed with a neighboring vineyard to employ the same crew for the entire season.  With this continuity, the quality of canopy management and cluster management
has improved markedly.  I am confident fruit quality will be an all-time best for Alta Colina Vineyard.  Yield-wise, we are running lower than normal but until we start to pick it’s impossible to put a number on it.

Joe Barton / Barton + Grey Wolf:
So far crop load is more average in size then first thought considering the rain this year.  Vines are coming out of drought cycle. Last years spring conditions were not ideal.  This years spring had some moments that were not ideal for flowering, so multiple things kind of kept a bumper crop from developing.  Once again, a good problem to have.  Happy vines.  Balanced crop.  Warm summer.  Should yield good quality and quantity.  

Kevin Jusilla / kukkula winery:
Yields appear higher this year, with the exception of some of the Grenache. I’d guess that the tonnage might be more consistent with what we saw in 2014. It’s hard to make any guesses at this point about sugars (other than they are slower to develop this year), but it does look like the pH/TAs might be in better balance with the respective brix levels.

Kevin Sass / Halter Ranch:
Overall yields will be heavier than usual. We prefer early harvests. But this last heat wave of 5 days straight above 100 degrees – and potentially 7 days of that ahead of us – will be tough to deal with. I see a lot of vineyards in the county shutting down and turning red. Disease is starting to show itself from all this stress,

Steve Lock / Écluse Wines:
In the whites we’re seeing higher acids and the sugars are a bit lower than normal for this stage of development. This is true with our whites, for sure, and it’s too early to get a feel for this in the reds at this point. The yields for all of our varietals is up compared to the last two years.

Any impacts from the rain earlier this year? What’s been the biggest challenge in the vineyard this year?

Bob Tillman / Alta Colina:
Last winter’s rains had a huge impact on our vines.  They came out of the blocks hell-bent on growing world champion canopies—and pretty much got it done.  Most years we baby leaf cover, as we will need it later in the summer to provide shade to prevent sunburned clusters.  After starting with that strategy this year, it became apparent the naturally occurring mildew would eat us up if we didn’t open up the canopy to allow fungicides to penetrate the vine interior.  By the time we figured that out, mildew had a foothold (primarily in Grenache), and we have been fighting a rear-guard action all season.  Alta Colina Vineyard is organic, which makes it challenging, as we don’t use the heavy hitter fungicides.
 
Joe Barton / Barton + Grey Wolf:
We have been battling mildew conditions all season.  Canopy management and timely spraying was a must this year.  Labor issues certainly made this even harder to achieve.  We tried to be present in all our fields earlier this year to make sure things did not get out of hand.  Years like this year it’s paramount to make more inspections more often.  

Kevin Jusilla / kukkula winery:
The vines appear to be happier this year. Retained moisture in the soil is much better than the last five years of drought. The canopy is really healthy. But the canopy is also a lot more vigorous, which has resulted in greater mildew pressure on varieties like Grenache, Grenache Blanc, and in a minor way for Viognier and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Kevin Sass / Halter Ranch:
Mildew has been our biggest issue but we have kept it under control. The rain has been great, but we didn’t get any early or late spring rain, so the water is getting used up quickly. If not for the heavy rain this year we would not be able to keep up on irrigation with this record-setting summer.

Steve Lock / Écluse Wines:
Very positive impact due to the rains. Better canopy development, later irrigation start and overall better health in the vineyard. Less winds at fruit set relative to 2015 and 2016. Early and persistent mildew pressure this year was a concern and heavy weed development due to more moist soils to a greater depth.

How’s the projected weather over the next few weeks, and how will it impact your harvest?

Bob Tillman / Alta Colina:
I’m excited about the near-term forecast—normal to cooler temperatures.  This will facilitate the long hang times that we seek.  There are usually a couple of heat spikes in September that play a big roll in picking decisions.  If you can get past them, the opportunity to wait until October to pick opens up—fingers crossed.

Joe Barton / Barton + Grey Wolf:
The biggest thing we are gauging now is sugar and acid ratios to project the picking windows we have.  Invariably we will get into our warming-cooling cycle, so you need to start identifying picking strategies.  Labor will always be working against you this time of year, so making sure you are forecasting one to two weeks ahead helps from missing key opportunities to harvest and pick grapes that can’t continue to hang. It always sounds good in theory.  But, it takes one big heat spike – like this last week in August  — to potentially toss all that out the window. 

Kevin Jusilla / kukkula winery:
We’ve experienced almost two weeks of uncharacteristically cool weather here in August, with temperatures in the 70-80 range during the day, and morning temps falling into the low/mid 40s. It’s been a welcome opportunity for the vines to take a breather. A heat wave is upon us now, and it appears that we could see daytime temps in the 90-100 range for at least a week or two. It wouldn’t surprise me if we get buried in ripe fruit in the next couple of weeks. As a 100 percent dry farmer, in particular, I can’t turn on the water!

Kevin Sass / Halter Ranch:
We hope this next few weeks will cool down a bit, but projections are showing hot. When sugars accumulate faster than the skins develop, you can end up with under-ripe flavors and lower phenolic development. These factors make picking decisions tricky.

Steve Lock / Écluse Wines:
In general, it’s still just farming and you respond to whatever comes along.

Walla Walla, Washington Harvest Update:
Many wineries throughout Walla Walla should begin picking the first of their white still grapes beginning the week after Labor Day, reports Jean Francois Pellet, Owner & Winemaker of Pepper Bridge and Amavi Cellars.

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