“A Short Crop Gets Shorter” and Rainy Day June Blues
Well, I should be excited that coastal California, from Santa Barbara to the Sonoma Coast, saw a little rain overnight. We need every drop we can get, right? Yes, that is, unless you’re a late-blooming Cabernet Sauvignon vine struggling to fertilize those last flowers and “set” a healthy number of berries. Yes, unless you’re a developing cluster of Pinot Noir, just starting to size up and don’t want rot and fungus-enabling moisture to endanger this year’s crop. And yes, unless you’re a winemaker who remembers 2007 and 2011 harvests when early Fall storms rained on tons of late-ripening Cabernet still out in the field.
There are certain times of the year when rain is welcome to growers and winemakers. Wintertime is great. The fruit is all picked and no fragile blooms are trying to fight for their existence. Even a short storm (as long as it gets warm and breezy immediately afterward) during October is OK. The Pinot will be mostly picked and the Cab, with its thicker-skinned berries and looser clusters, can hang through one rainstorm without many problems.
I just hope that last night’s excitement isn’t the beginning of a pattern, or a pre-saging of things to come. Sorry to sound pessimistic, but it’s the “farmer girl” side of me that recalls an old adage: “A short crop gets shorter.” What that means is that, this time of year, growers and wineries are trying to estimate their Harvest vineyard yields by counting the number of clusters on any given vine. The problem is that cluster counts have nothing to do with how each berry in that cluster will “size up” as it goes from being a hard green BB to a full, soft purple grape. It has nothing to do with how well that cluster, especially if it’s still full of flowers, will “set” and how many berries will be lost to shatter. Unfortunately, weather events like last night’s rain, can negatively affect both bloom, set and grape sizing. It’s not an early Harvest anymore, which means that with every passing day, the danger of late-Fall rains damaging the last fruit on the vine (in Napa, that’s usually Cabernet) increases.
I know, I know. There’s still a long ways to go before now and the end of Harvest, which for me tends to be around the first week in November or so. We could have a perfect ripening season, great weather during Harvest and still end up with an “average” sized crop. Yes, there indeed is a long way to go before all the grapes are safely in the barn and it could all work out perfectly. However, I’m no weather forecaster but I am hearing rumblings of an El Niño winter.
Remember how last week I said I had my rot and botrytis radar on? I just turned the dial up to “High Alert”.
Alison Crowe is the Director of Winemaking for Plata Wine Partners and Winemaker for Picket Fence Vineyards, Garnet Vineyards and others. She sources from vineyards all over California for her clients’ projects and lives in Napa with her family. Girl and the Grape won “Best New Wine Blog” in 2014. Reach her at LinkedIn, @alisoncrowewine ,firstname.lastname@example.org