Weather causing concerns for fall’s grape harvests

Worldwide weather conditions are causing concern from Italy to California.  Although 2011’s harvest won’t be as full of problems as the 2010 grape harvest, there are pockets of warning signs.
The season was late in Tuscany accompanied by lots of rainfall.  That normally is not enough to throw the season off, but in late summer, there was a huge heat spike, well over 100 degrees, according to my sources at Castello Banfi.  The grapes had “a bad case of sunburn.”
Handpicking is key and while yield will be reduced, a “double triage” sorting of fruit, guarantees inspection protection for the best grape density.  Best vintages in recent history for Tuscan reds are: 2001, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2009.
Castello Brolio, another leading Tuscan Sangiovese wine producer, is challenged in a similar way.  Its 2009 Chianti Classico was the number five rated wine in the world by Wine Spectator.  Now the winds of change will make it difficult to come back.  Italy and France seem to be forever challenged by nature’s forces.
California has a more consistent climate not subject to great swings which can knock out a harvest, but 2010 was a difficult year and this year looks no different. Garen Staglin is praying for a dry October in the Napa Valley.  Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles reports dealing with a late season frost early on and a very warm summer.  It will be a late harvest. 
They saw “veraison” occur (the grapes turning color and accumulating sugars) in late August, which would put harvest for their reds at about the time of this column.  Yields will be much lighter this year than last with about 2 tons per acre. Oustanding vintages in this wine country were:  2004, 2006 and 2007.
Oregon is reporting good fortune with the weather taking a turn for the best.
Verasion has brought full color to the Pinot Noir crop scheduled for harvest as we write.
Temecula’s harvest plans are much improved over last season.  Rain was plentiful early and the summer produced more heat than last year.  Yields should be better than the 2010 crop.
News around the vines
Grape Stomps at wineries are always a good sign that the harvest is coming soon.  Up and down the state the public is invited to a mass mess of grapes crushing between the toes of willing stompers in big vats. 
The latest was at Bernardo Winery in Rancho Bernardo where hundreds turned out. Look for more between now and the end of the month.,
Americans drank more wine than ever last year, especially big reds. 
More than $40 billion was spent on wine, an all time high. 
Pinot Noir continues to put up classic scores with the varietal’s best performance ever.  Sonoma remains the best wine country for Pinot. Wine Spectator reports a “whopping” 55 percent of the wines from the 2009 vintage scoring 90 points or better, with Sonoma getting a 99-point vintage rating for ’09.
The wine industry is still bullish, predicting that wine grapes will be in short supply due to a cooling weather trend.  But the consumer will still win, due to lower prices and a still-soft economy. 
The report on the state of the wine industry was recently released by UC Davis. Wine makers are promoting chilled red wines, especially Pinot Noirs.  Jim Bernau of Willamette Valley in Oregon urges trying cooler Pinots.  I always recommend reds at 65 degrees.  The flavor pops so much more distinctly on the palate, as opposed to “room temperature” at 72 degrees.
Wine Bytes
— Pinot Noir Camp is Oct. 8 from Noon to 5 p.m. at the Wine Exchange in Orange.  Get an education in Oregon and California Pinots.  Cost is $28 for a sampling of 16. RSVP at (800) 769-4639.
— An Evening of Epicure is planned for Stonehill Tavern at the St. Regis in Dana Point, Oct. 12 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.  Cost is $95. Flowers, Quintessa wines and food pairings. Famed restaurateur Michael Mina will be signing his new book. Call (949) 234-3405.
— Oktoberwest at West Restaurants in Carlsbad happens Oct. 15 from noon to 3 p.m, to help the Make a Wish Foundation.  Includes six food and wine pairings.  $50 per person.  Info at (760) 930-9100.
— Holiday Wine Cellar in Escondido is pouring wines from Napa Valley’s Michael David Oct. 15 from 2 to 4 p.m.  Reserve your glass for just $10 each.  Call (760) 745-1200.
— Woofs and Purrs in the Vines is the event at Oak Mountain Winery in Temecula, Oct. 16 from 12 to 4 p.m.  100 percent benefit of the $35 donation is for animals with diabetes.  Live music, lunch and wine, silent and live auction included.  RSVP at (951) 699-9102.

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