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Paso Robles grower anticipates harvesting high quality fruit from an average size crop

“The crop looks to be about average in size, while the quality of the fruit looks to be pretty terrific.”

Her vineyards aren’t likely to yield an abundance of grapes this year, but their quality should make for some pleasing wines, reports Paso Robles, Calif., grower Stephanie Terrizzi.

“The crop looks to be about average in size, while the quality of the fruit looks to be pretty terrific,” she says. “The number of clusters seems to be about normal, and the clusters are full, but the berries seem to be small. I kept waiting for them to get bigger. Even the white grapes look small. However, the higher skin-to-juice ratio should mean more flavor for the reds.”

Terrizzi, who’s been growing grapes in the Central Coast since 2006, manages properties in the Adelaida, Creston and San Miguel districts of the Paso Robles AVA and purchases grapes from the appellation’s Santa Margarita Ranch district of the Paso Robles AVA. They produce grapes for Giornata Winery, near Paso Robles, which she and her husband and winemaker, Brian, own.

Stephanie also works with several growers in the Edna Valley AVA, south of San Luis Obispo, and farther south in the Santa Maria Valley AVA of neighboring Santa Barbara County who produce grapes for other wineries.

With berries continuing to soften and take on color in the second week of August, following a somewhat delayed start of verasion in late July, Stephanie was keeping a close eye on her vineyards, even as her thoughts began focusing on this year’s harvest.

In fact, that same week, the Terrizzis were cleaning equipment at the winery and finishing up bottling to free up barrels for the new-crop wines.

The shortage of labor is the top concern for them and other Paso Robles growers as they start preparing for harvest, Stephanie notes.

“I’ve noticed a lot of shiny, new harvesting machines in barns this year,” she says. “So growers, who don’t expect to have the workers they’ll need, are spending the money to make sure their grapes get picked.”

However, Stephanie points out, a number of vineyards here, including some of hers, lack the space between vine rows and suitable topography to accommodate harvesting machines.

Still, based on recent conversations with their labor contractor, the Terrizzis expect to have enough workers for their harvest. It could start later this month with the first white varieties, while the earliest reds could be ready to pick the first week of September.

“The contractors here have a number of temporary crews which they can share with each other, as needed,” Stephanie says. “And we’re trying to be flexible with our schedule to get all the workers on the days we need them. Smaller vineyards, which require smaller harvest crews, will probably be more affected by the labor shortage than larger operations.”

The mix of varieties Stephanie grows reflects Brian’s Italian heritage and their shared interest in Italian style wines. They include white varieties, such as Friulano, Pinot Grigio, Ribolla Gialla and Trebbiano, and red grapes, like Aglianico, Barbera, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese. She also grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, and Merlot. The Terrizzis travel regularly to Italy to add to their knowledge of Italian wine making and viticultural practices.

Most of the varieties had entered veraison by the last week of July. That’s about a week later than normal, Stephanie notes. She attributes the delayed veraison to this year’s mid-March bud break. Although about normal in timing, that was several weeks later than last year and six weeks later than in 2015.

“This year the vines were able to sleep and catch up on much-needed rest,” Stephanie says. “It must have been like a breath of fresh air for them. Finally, we had a nice, normal cold rainy winter. For the first two months of this year, it rained once or twice a week. During that period, the soils were dry enough for crews to work in the vineyards for only a total of 12 days.”

Except for an occasional shower here and there, the rains stopped after April 1. By June, the weather turned unusually hot and by July, instead of the customary cool, ocean breezes, the temperatures rose even more.

“It seemed like each weather forecast was for hotter weather ahead,” Stephanie says. ”Typically, temperatures cool down into the 50s at night. But on a few days the thermometer still read 80 degrees at 11 p.m.”

However, except for a little sunburn on some Petite Sirah, which is susceptible to such damage, and a small amount on some Zinfandel, the fruit appears to have weathered the heat fairly well, she says.

Also, Stephanie notes, she’s beginning to see more growers using shade cloth to help protect varieties that are particularly sensitive to sun and heat. In fact, as she has for the past four seasons, Stephanie installed 30-percent shade sun cloth on the west side of her Nebbiolo vines to protect the very thin-skinned grapes, which can suffer significant sunburn before the berries turn red.

Two workers hook the cloth to the wire above the fruiting wire, where it hangs down about 18 inches and remaining about four inches away from the fruit. “At first, I was concerned that the shade cloth might reduce air flows and increase the threat of powdery mildew,” she says. “But I haven’t noticed any difference between the shaded and unshaded vines.”

That’s not to say she and other grower shave been spared the threat from powdery mildew this season. Humidity levels have been unusually high this year. She attributes that to moist air in the region generated by a series of tropical ocean storms. In turn, that’s ramped up powdery mildew pressures in the vineyards.

“All of us have seen quite a bit of powdery mildew this season,” she says. “I’ve made more sprays to control powdery mildew than I have in all of the past six years. I treated one vineyard for the first time since 2013. The infections seemed to occur overnight and mostly on the canes. But, we were able to control most outbreaks by spraying as soon as we spotted them.”

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