December 20, 2011
California's wine grape crop off by 9 percent

After a second year of unseasonably cool temperatures, the grape tonnage has been tallied and the results are ready. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, 3.3 million tons of wine grapes were harvested in the 2011 growing season, a 9 percent drop from the previous year.

That's not too much of a surprise considering the cold shoulder that Mother Nature gave to Northern California this year, with its wet spring and temperate summer. The grape harvest started about three weeks late in Lodi, with growers hoping for warm weather to help their grapes reach ripeness.

This year's total pales compared with 2009, when 3.7 million tons of grapes were harvested - the second largest amount in California's history. But as the saying goes, good things come in small packages.

The motto for the 2011 harvest just might be "quality over quantity." With grapes picked at lower sugar levels, the alcohol content for wines is likely to be on the moderate side. Look for 2011 wines that showcase a more elegant and restrained character, with higher acids and less of a boozy, overripe flavor that happens when grapes bake in the sun too long.

Some wineries were still stung a bit by the cool growing season, but happy with the final results.

"Surprisingly enough, the quality came out pretty good," said Victor Alvarez, owner of Miraflores Winery in El Dorado County. "We lost 40 to 50 percent of the whites, but fortunately the end of the season was very mild and there was only one rain, which didn't affect things. Everything was well matured and balanced, but the acidity is a little high. The cabernet and zinfandel is looking excellent."

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