A lot of winemakers in Northern California are crossing their fingers, rubbing disembodied rabbits’ feet and throwing copious amounts of salt over their shoulders. Why? Because it is the middle of July and 2012 has been a nearly perfect growing season (knock on wood).
After two years, which, depending on your vineyard practices and winemaking goals, were somewhere between challenging and devastating thanks to spring rain, fall rain, heat spikes, sunburn and all kinds of mold and mildew issues, grapegrowers and winemakers are finally breathing easy.
“I am happy to report that in mid-July, we continue to hold very high expectations for the vintage. There is a collective sigh heard throughout the Valley, as we are starting to believe that the anxiety that persisted throughout the growing seasons of 2010 and 2011 has eased,” says Amy Warnock, a member of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers and Viticulturist for the esteemed Stagecoach Vineyard on Atlas Peak.
Late winter rains saturated the soils and filled reservoirs but stopped just in time for bloom. Warm weather and gentle breezes throughout flowering led to a good fruit set, with just enough shatter to keep clusters from growing too crowded. Cool nights, foggy mornings and warm sunny days have made for vigorous canopies that will help ripen plump little berries.
But will the perfect conditions hold? Veraison — when grapes begin accumulating sugar and red grapes turn red (see photo above)— has started in a few vineyards in Napa Valley and Sonoma, which means harvest is just a couple of months away. According to the Heat Summation Scale, a system developed by UC Davis and used by California wineries to predict harvest (among other things), we are having a “normal” season. That being said, we haven’t had a “normal” year since 2004, says Jon Ruel, Director of Viticulture and Winemaking for Trefethen Family Vineyards.
With nothing but sunshine in the forecast and highs in the mid-80s for the next two weeks in both Napa and Sonoma, it seems that those grapes are going to get nice and sweet and flavorful, at the very least. And if you haven’t visited Wine Country during veraison — a time nearly as magical as harvest (and with less traffic) — we highly recommend that you do.