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.