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Santa Lucia Highlands Winegrape Harvest Winds Down After Record Heat Makes for a ‘Fast and Furious’ Season


High Quality, Minor Damage Prevail Despite Labor Day Heat Wave

Santa Lucia Highlands, Calif., October 4, 2017­­ The 2017 wine grape harvest in the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation, which started in early September, is nearing its end with vintners waiting on the last of the grapes to wrap up a wild and compacted harvest. Some of California’s finest growers and vintners call the Santa Lucia Highlands home: roughly 3,200 acres of Pinot Noir and 2,100 acres of Chardonnay are planted in the western mountain benchlands of Monterey County’s Salinas Valley.  

A blistering heat wave that hit the whole California Coast Labor Day weekend brought record 110+ degree temperatures to the typically cool Santa Lucia Highlands. The heat pushed the Pinot Noir harvest into high gear and recorded some of the hottest days vintners in this area remember.

“We began harvesting Pinot Noir from Sleepy Hollow Vineyard during the second week of September, one week earlier than last year. Chardonnay was right behind the Pinot a few days later, which is fairly unusual to have the two ripen so close together,” said David Coventry, winemaker for Talbott Vineyards.

“We harvested our Pinot Noir in a span of 20 days instead of a normal four to five weeks. Syrah that normally comes in mid-to-late October is coming in around the first 10-12 days of October,” said grower Gary Franscioni of Rosella’s, Garys’ and Soberanes vineyards. Franscioni and his sons also produce Roar Wines.

Despite the heat wave, growers and vintners are positive about both the outcome and quality. Vintners report the region largely avoided the raisining and damage many regions suffered due to advance watering and canopy management standards that avoid exposed fruit.

“The steps we take to help prevent heat damage worked. Large amounts of hydration and not having fully exposed canopies really helped the vines,” said Franscioni.

“There was some minor damage, exposed berries raisined and dehydration took a small toll on cluster weight and yield. We were lucky this anomaly occurred when it did, because many of the grapes were not quite ripe enough to pick and so the heat did not do as much damage as it could have had they been a little riper,” said Steve McIntyre of McIntyre Vineyards.

“The winter rainfall, excellent irrigation and canopy management, and quick harvest mobilization all played important roles in avoiding what could have been a huge disaster in regards to yield and quality loss,” said Winemaker Paul Clifton of Hahn Family Wines.

While vintners stress it’s too early to make a full assessment of quality of the vintage, signs point to anther exceptional vintage.

“Through it all, fruit quality is really good. We had few mildew problems and clean fruit overall. We’re happy with color and fruit flavors,” said Dan Lee, proprietor of Morgan Vineyards. “I am really proud of the winery for digesting the fruit in such a timely manner. It was fast and furious, but we didn’t leave anything out suffering on the vine.”

Growers expect the last of the grapes, mainly Syrah, to come in over the next few weeks.  “We will finish up our Syrah over the next week and that will put a wrap on the 2017 SLH harvest,” said Jason Smith, of Paraiso Vineyards and Smith Family Wines in Soledad. 

The Santa Lucia Highlands is one of the crown jewels of California viticulture, growing and producing some of the state’s best cool climate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah. The appellation encompasses more than 6,000 acres of prime vineyards, planted on the elevated terraces of the Santa Lucia mountain range in close proximity to nearby Monterey Bay. The region’s unique winegrowing character was recognized with official A.V.A. status in 1991.  

Formed in 2005, the Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans is a non-profit association of vineyards and wineries that grow grapes in the appellation or use the appellation’s fruit to craft their vintage releases. The group’s online home is SantaLuciaHighlands.com



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