Barring any adverse weather before he finishes harvesting at the end of October, John Roumigueire expects to bring in an average wine grape crop with above-average quality.
“Things are looking good right now,” says the Lake County Winegrape Commission member. “It should be a good quality year, if the weather holds and no huge rain storms come in early.”
Roumiguiere Vineyards will be picking the grapes from slightly more than 500 acres of vineyards spread over four ranches in the Lakeport-Kelseyville area — one in the Redhills area, the others in the valley around Clear Lake. The grapes include such mainstays as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as specialty varietals like Malbec, Petite Syrah and Petite Verdot.
Right on schedule, Roumiguiere began picking grapes the first of September, starting with Savignon Blanc.
At one time, it appeared that cool weather late in May might delay harvest, but the crop received enough heat units to bring things back on schedule, he says.
“I’m a little surprised that the Chardonnay is coming on a little quicker than normal; usually, we start picking them when we finish with the Sauvignon Blanc.”
The fruit set appears to be very good, he says. “We’ve seen a few shot berries in a couple of Cabernet blocks, but nothing that should create a quality problem. The Merlot clusters may be a little loose, but overall berry size and ripening seem to be pretty even. It’s the same with Petite Syrah; we’re very pleased with it this year.”
With elevations of his ranches ranching from 1,340 to 2,300 feet, temperatures may swing as much 40 degrees to 50 degrees between day and night. That tends to keep diseases and insects pressures lower than in other grape-growing areas of California, he says. This includes powdery mildew, blue green sharpshooter and glassy-wing sharpshooter.
Romiguiere expects the low prices over the past few years to continue this season. “This year will probably be like the last two, with a lot of extra fruit going unpicked,” he says.
Like most other Lake Country wine grape growers, he’s adopted a variety of sustainable practices — from growing cover crops, which help control erosion, conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and attract beneficial insects and spiders, to using chemicals only when threats reach an economic threshold level.
For example, in-row tillers and mowers minimize the need for herbicides, while leaf pullers not only save hand labor, but also aerate clusters to help ward off the need for fungicides.
Romiguiere replaces hand labor with machines whenever possible. That includes the use of a wire mover with his vertical shoot position trellis systems to ease the chore of adjusting the wires as the canopy develops during the season and, when the vines go dormant, a pre-pruner. The pre-pruner makes easy work of the labor-intensive job of removing the shoots that cling to the wires.
The pre-pruner cuts his labor bills, while improving quality of the grapes, says Romiguiere. He has been pre-pruning for seven years.
“It allows us to use smaller pruning crews, who can cover more ground. The machine cuts all the canopy brush into two-inch pieces, so it all falls to the ground, where it’s incorporated by disking to improve soil tilth. Because the pruning crews don’t have to spend a lot time yanking on canes to loosen tendrils from wires, they can concentrate on cutting off spurs and the like. This improves quality of the clusters and leads to more uniform maturing and ripening of the grapes.”