The Heat Before the Harvest

At times it seems like growing grapes and making wine in California is the complete opposite experience as it is in most of Europe. Here have a long and relatively cool growing season (night-time temps in the 50’s all summer), while in Europe they have a short and compact warm growing summer. season We try to pick our grapes with the hope that they don’t have too much sugar/potential alcohol, while they harvest hoping there is enough sugar and won’t need to chapitalize. And now here in the end of September with both California and much of Europe frantically picking their respective grapes, we pray that we don’t get blasted with a late season heat wave, while our friends across the pond are hoping to avoid an early deluge of rain and storms.

Much of the west coast has been dealing with temperatures in the mid to upper 90’s all week. This is the last hurrah of summer here in California. The only problem is if you are a Pinot Noir producer (like us) and your grapes are 7-14 days away from harvest, extreme heat is the last thing you need. Unless your fruit is well shaded you risk sunburn and bleaching of the grape clusters. One also faces a rapid increase in sugar levels without the corresponding “ripening.” You are also often forced to do a tiny bit of irrigation (2-3 gallons per vine), something you really hate to do at the end of the season. In the 2010 vintage we were fortunate enough to be able to pick our Pinot Noir before 4 days of blistering heat in late September. This year the Pinot Noir was hanging out around 20-21 brix before the heat wave so we just have had to wait it out. I hope that the extra leaves that were left around the clusters will protect them from sun damage and shrivel. Hourly checks of the temperature and humidity reports at the nearest weather station is all we can do to soothe our worried minds.

On a separate note: if you ever plan to visit California come in September, it’s the best month: warm, no fog, lots of great summer produce in the markets and restaurant menus and few tourists.

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