August 3, 2006
Harvest Days

No matter how high fuel prices go, Northern California wine enthusiasts doubtless still will visit one grape-growing region or another during harvest. Wine enthusiasts just love to see those gondolas of grapes make their way from vineyard to winery, though the romance of the moment tends to lose its edge if they get stuck behind one of those lumbering rigs for long.

Nevertheless, when should bibbers plan this year's harvest trek? Remember, the winter that seemed as if it never would end delayed the start of grape growing by up to a month in some areas. The recent heat wave would have seemed to more than compensate for that slow start, but when the temperature shoots up like that grape vines stop producing, and development of the fruit falters.

I've spent part of today talking to several winemakers about a totally unrelated matter, but did ask them to predict when harvest is likely to get under way. By now, harvest customarily is starting at least tentatively in some areas, but not this year. Winemakers concurred that vines generally are running two to three weeks behind schedule, and that the picking of early-ripening white-wine varieties won't commence in earnest until near the end of the month. "We're normally picking chardonnay the first or second week of August, but this year we're definitely looking at the end of August," says David Lucas of Lucas Winery at Lodi.

The harvesting of later-maturing red-wine varieties should be clicking along in mid-September, though Bill Easton of Domaine de la Terre Rouge in Amador County's Shenandoah Valley doesn't expect to start picking zinfandel and syrah until near the end of September. "The crop size seems a little larger this year, so that could delay harvest as well because the vines are carrying a heavier load," says Easton.

A late start to the harvest doesn't necessarily mean the picking will extend deeper than usual into the fall, however. While that could happen, Tony Spinetta of Charles Spinetta Winery in the Shenandoah Valley has seen harvests start late and finish early, with grapes tending to ripen in quick succession, regardless of variety, making for an intense crush. He's got a feeling that this is going to be one of those years.

So when should wine enthusiasts plan to visit a local grape-growing area this year? Looks like most anytime in September should be splendid, along with the first week or two of October.

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