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Fewer grapes this year in lots of places

Harvest is nearly here. Throughout California, and in many other places in the country, grapes have already gone through veraison, the process where red grapes turn from green to red, blue, purple, or black, and where some white grapes begin to take on a golden, translucent sheen. By most estimates, and depending on the varietal and the specific location, the harvest will begin in 2 to 4 weeks.

And so it goes elsewhere around the northern hemisphere (Bordeaux began harvest this week). But this year has brought with it some significant challenges for grape growers around the world.

In Canada, this year's harvest is supposed to be only half the size of previous harvests. A bitterly cold January and February has severely curtailed crop growth, leaving some growers as much as 70% less fruit than normal.

In Spain, a massive drought has hit some of its appellations very hard. The summer has been long and unrelentingly hot, after a winter with less rainfall than usual. As a result, Spain's overall production will be dropping about 14%, and some regions, like Catalonia, which has been hardest hit, will lose 40%.

Closer to home for me, the Northern California Pinot Noir harvest has been severely damaged by late season rains through June. Some growers have lost entire crops of the delicate Pinot Noir grape due to rain-induced shatter, a physiological condition where the grapes never ripen, and also due to mold. Particularly hard hit have been those growers who maintain biodynamic Pinot vineyards, or so say some of my winemaker friends who make Pinot Noir. Biodynamic growing techniques forbid the use of some additives in the vineyards that many winemakers have used in desperation to combat the effects of the June rains.

Does this mean that the 2005 California Pinot Noir vintage will be a bust? Not at all, but it does mean that some of your favorite wineries may be making a lot less of it, or sadly, none at all.
What that will do to prices overall, it's hard to say, but some will certainly be higher, if only to attempt to recoup losses.

Comments (8)

Geoff Smith wrote:
08.26.05 at 11:53 AM

Yeah, I hear some of the Coastal vineyards have precious little fruit. But, there are plenty of other varieties with good sets---so alternatives will be available!


Ian Scott wrote:
08.26.05 at 4:01 PM

That is interesting news. Most of the juices I get are from Ontario where I live. I wonder if I should be stocking up on juice before the prices increase!

Ian Scott wrote:
08.27.05 at 7:27 PM

Just returned from a day trip to the Niagara region. Spoke with quite a few reps and owners of small wineries in the region, and all were very concerned about this year's harvest. Some reporting 1/3 less than typical harvests for the fall, others agreeing it is 1/2.

All but one of the wineries I dropped in on were NOT offering juice/must for either red or white wines this year. They all basically said, "We need every last drop we can get for our own wine."

I'll be posting on my outing shortly.

Ben wrote:
08.28.05 at 10:29 AM

I talked to some of the Napa folks and they're a little worried about the cabernet harvest. I think the growing season has been pretty chilly, and they have uneven ripening. They're gonna have higher labor costs if they want to keep the green grapes out.

Alder wrote:
08.28.05 at 2:50 PM

But no rest for the weary in France, where they are set for another bumper crop, despite exports dropping by 8% this year.

Lenn wrote:
08.29.05 at 11:35 AM

Vineyard managers here on Long Island have offered me mixed response. We've had almost no rain all summer (Katrina promises to bring some later this week though)...an the grapes are TINY this year.

In fact, one winemaker told me that they are smaller than he's ever seen them in 20 years here. Of course HE is excited at the prospect of small, concentrated fruit...but I imagine general managers aren't so thrilled.

Craig Camp wrote:
08.30.05 at 11:04 AM

In Oregon, 2005 looks to be the second vintage in a row with extremely low yields. A cool, rainy spring meant a poor fruit set and bud mites did the rest. Production in our vineyards looks to be 40% to 60% less than our projected 2 tons per acre. Powdery mildew has also been a problem.

Interestingly enough, the coolest sites are in the best condition as they flower a week or two later, when the weather had improved.

Alder wrote:
08.30.05 at 11:06 AM


Thanks for the Oregon update !!

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