So far, this has been good growing season for California’s Central Coast wine grape producers. “We haven’t had a lot of curve balls thrown at us,” says Grant Cremers, Los Alamos, president of the Central Coast Wine Growers Association, which represents more than 200 wineries, vineyards, and industry-related businesses in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
Extreme weather is one of the major challenges the region’s growers face.
“Year-in and year-out, we can get as many as 40 frost nights, along with some pretty good heat spikes later in the season,” Cremers says. “Also, the cool, moist ocean air can bring on diseases pretty quickly.”
But, not this year. The weather hasn’t been particularly hot or cool, he notes. The warmest period was in June when temperatures climbed into the mid-90s for about a week. That contrasts 110-degree weather in June last year. And, foggy conditions haven’t posed much a problem this season.
Disease pressures have been normal, and growers who followed recommend spray intervals have held their ground against powdery mildew, he says. While botrytis bunch rot is starting to appear in a few spots, there are none of the widespread infestations that caused so many headaches in 2006.
“We still have a long way to go but, judging by the long-range weather forecasts, we should finish the year fairly well,” Cremers says.
Unlike the below-average production of the last few years, 2009 yields should be normal.
“Cluster counts and cluster weights have been in line with an average year,” he says. “As far as ripening is concerned, the 2009 crop is right on schedule and may be even a little ahead in a few places.”
By mid-August, some Pinot Noir was at 18-plus Brix, while Chardonnay was around 12 to 13 or, Cremers says.
Although a few growers in San Luis Obispo County have begun picking champagne grapes, the county’s main grape harvest is expected to begin around the first of September. That’s also when Santa Barbara County producers will begin pulling off their Pinot Noir and then Chardonnay, before harvesting other varieties such as Grenache and Syrah.
Currently, grape sales activity in the two counties is low.
“Smaller growers with good reputations have a pretty good market this year,” Cremers says. “But growers with much large volumes may not be selling many grapes right now. A lot of the bigger wineries are sitting back, trying to figure out how much crop is out there and their actual needs. At this point, they don’t want to be long on any variety.”