At this point in the season, projections of the size of Sonoma County’s wine grape crop depend on who you talk to. Some see average or better yields this year; some expect average or lower production; still others report some blocks bearing heavier-than-average loads.
“I’m getting messages all across the board,” says veteran grower Duff Bevill of Bevill Vineyard Management LLC, Healdsburg, Calif. “It probably means an inconsistent crop throughout the county.”
His company manages 1,100 acres of wine grapes in the county’s Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River appellations. He estimates crews will harvest an average to light crop from his own vineyards this year.
“Although we see large crops in three or four of our vineyards, there won’t be a widespread bumper crop,” Bevill says.
So far, Sonoma County growers aren’t under any unusual disease pressures, he notes. “The vineyards are in pretty good shape. We always worry about mildew, our No. 1 disease concern, but I haven’t heard of any particular problems. We got through July 4 without any mildew strikes— if you can do that, we say, you’ve beat that disease for the season.”
The county’s mixed production prospects probably reflect weather conditions at bloom, he surmises. Temperatures pushing 100 degrees accelerated start of the bloom for a few days. Then, after a number of vineyards bloomed, the weather turned cooler.
The bloom of some later varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon, spanned a few weeks. In some cases, vines bloomed over a two-week period, causing them to set clusters several weeks later than other clusters on the same vines. That leaves many growers facing inconsistent ripening this year.
“If you have blocks under contract, you work with wine makers to reach a collective decision on how to resolve that issue,” Bevill says. “More often than not, that involves removing the later-maturing fruit from the vines before harvest, at about 18 to 20 Brix. But, if your blocks aren’t committed, removing any when you don’t have a home for the rest of the grapes is a difficult decision, especially in a year when there isn’t a big demand.”
As he points out, demand this year is still soft for a number of varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon.