The calendar's barely turned to August but activity's well underway in the region's wine grape vineyards. The annual harvest has arrived about two weeks early compared to a typical year, due to significant summer heat spikes in 2013 and its overall dry growing season.
In Lodi, which is home to 100,000 acres of wine grapes, varietals grown for sparkling wine production are already being harvested. Red grapes are also expected to be picked at least one to two weeks earlier than normal for this growing season.
"They're starting to move the tractors around, and you'll see more of that next week and over the next two weeks with earlier white varieties," said Stuart Spencer, program manager for the Lodi Winegrape Commission. "I wouldn't be surprised if we saw early reds and older vineyards getting picked around Labor Day."
While 2012 produced a monster sized crop with 3.89 million tons of crushed wine grapes - the second largest harvest in California history - Spencer expects an "average" to "above average" sized crop for 2013. (The above picture was taken near Lodi from the 2008 harvest, which reaped 3.05 million tons statewide).
This early harvest rings as good news for growers. With grapes getting picked earlier in the summer, there's less chance for crops to be damaged by fall rains.
"A whole crop can be ruined in one day by Mother Nature," said Spencer. "You'll never see a grower complain about picking grapes early. They're happy to get some off the vines earlier rather than later."
Of course, growers aren't out of the woods yet. There's plenty of time for the weather to throw some whammies before mid-October, when harvest usually concludes. But so far, growers are optimistic.
"The sugars are coming along nicely and the vines look healthy," said Spencer. "We have a little ways to go but it looks good at this point."