San Luis Obispo Wine Country, CA: The 2017 harvest season in San Luis Obispo (SLO) Wine Country is beginning to heat up this week, marking a near return to historical averages in this ultra-coastal region in southern San Luis Obispo County on California’s Central Coast.
In the words of Nathan Carlson, general manager at Center of Effort Winery in the Edna Valley, “This is about as ‘normal’ as we have seen for a long time.”
This refrain is being echoed by winemakers and winegrowers across the region, as a wet winter combined with steady spring weather and cool August temperatures have helped re-establish local norms after years of sustained drought conditions.
The vineyards of SLO Wine Country are located just five miles from the Pacific Ocean on average, driving a regional focus on cool-climate varieties such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and aromatic whites, as well as cool-climate expressions of Zinfandel, Syrah and other varieties.
Harvest Now Underway
Several local wineries will begin their 2017 harvest this week or shortly thereafter, while others have already started picking some of their early-ripening varieties.
Historically speaking, this start is still slightly early. Some vineyards are reporting low Pinot Noir yields, which has accelerated their harvest schedule.
At Niner Wine Estates, Winemaker Molly Bohlman said that their harvest at Jespersen Ranch in the Edna Valley is starting “two weeks later than the past couple of years.”
On the northern coast of SLO Wine Country, Cutruzzola Vineyards also reported that their estate harvest was starting two weeks later than the previous few years.
“It used to be that you routinely had Labor Day weekend off here, and that hasn’t happened since 2010,” said, Fintan du Fresne, general manager and winemaker at Chamisal Vineyards. “However, this year is later than the past three years, which is a good thing.”
The 2017 Growing Season
The 2017 growing season was characterized as “long and even” by Lisa Miller, proprietor of Cutruzzola Vineyards.
“We witnessed a longer than average lag phase and a very gradual veraison and transition into ripening,” said Jeremy Leffert, consulting winemaker at Croma Vera Wines.
The summer began on a warm note, but a cooling trend for most of August slowed the pace of ripening prior to the statewide warming this week.
“August has largely been on the cool side, with a lot of marine layer not burning off until late morning to early afternoon,” said Scott Williams, director of winegrowing at Niven Family Wine Estates.
Added du Fresne, “The slow ripening is great for color and flavor.”
Moderate to Lower Yields
Yields are hovering around normal across SLO Wine Country, although several wineries are reporting lower yields for Pinot Noir and slightly higher yields for Chardonnay in some vineyards.
“Our Pinot Noir crop at Stone Corral Vineyard is below our average,” said Stephen R. Dooley, winemaker and proprietor at Stephen Ross Wine Cellars. “We are looking at 1.75 tons per acre. We already see great acidity and color in the samples we have pulled.”
Said Coby Parker-Garcia, winemaker at Claiborne & Churchill Vintners and proprietor at El Lugar Wines, “The only variety where we see lower yields is with Pinot Noir.”
“Our Chardonnay looks pretty classic,” Carlson said. “A long flowering period for Pinot Noir resulted in an uneven set at our estate. The Chardonnay timing was a little different.”
Added Kamee Knutson, winemaker at Edna Valley Vineyard, “Though lighter in yield, we are very happy with the intense concentration in the berries. We’re expecting bright flavors balanced by crisp acidity.”
Effects of The Wet Winter
The stage for the 2017 growing season was set by a wet winter and early spring, which marked a welcome change from the sustained drought conditions across California.
In SLO Wine Country, the added moisture made a significant difference in the vineyards.
“The biggest effect is the canopy growth,” said Joshua Klapper, winemaker at Timbre Winery. “The shoots are healthy and the leaves are plentiful and the most beautiful green.”
The effect on yields, however, will be delayed. “The vines are very happy and look great, but I don’t think we will see a bump in crop yields until the 2018 vintage,” Dooley said.
The wetter conditions also brought additional challenges, such as increased disease pressures and gopher population proliferation, but these challenged were reported as manageable.
“The large amount of rain we received allowed us to practice deficit irrigation and still get a great yield,” reported Alex Frost and Brandon Carlisle, cellar master and assistant winemaker, respectively, for Sextant Wines.
In the San Luis Obispo Wine Country on California’s Central Coast—or “SLO Wine Country,” as locals call it—the Pacific Ocean shapes our culture, our terrain and our wines. Here, where our wineries boast an average distance of just five miles from the water, the prevailing marine conditions are among the most pronounced of any wine region in California. Our ocean-cooled environment fosters unifying qualities that are native to the wines of SLO Wine Country. For details and wine tasting information, visit SLOWine.com.