…And They’re Off, Well Kind Of
By: George Balling
It is the expression of many of our wine grape grower and winemaker friends alike at the end of harvest each year, “and they’re off”. It refers to when the last grapes are off the vines and harvest is complete, and not surprisingly it is when all can breathe a sigh of relief. The full work of “the crush” is not done at this point as grapes still need to be fermented and barreled down, and all of the precursor and related steps to this complex process and yes things can still go wrong. It does mean though that weather is taken out of the equation and can no longer have an impact on the final product.
This year we say “well kind of”, because in many places around the appellations of the West harvest is done, even though not all of the grapes were picked. Every vintage and therefore every harvest is unique offering up its own set of challenges and victories. This year the crop got off to a very late start as we have written about, due to a wet and cold spring through out the wine countries in the West. This resulted in not only a small crop by tonnage standards, that in some ways was helped here in the Northwest by the long dry fall. Even with the lovely weather of September and the lion’s share of October much of the grape crop still didn’t get fully ripe due to the rapidly declining heat units that are normal in this part of the world. The cold and snow of the last couple of weeks finished that. It got cold and cloudy enough that harvest was effectively ended last weekend just before Halloween.
The bottom line for most Northwest wineries is that the 2022 crop of wines will be small, especially for later ripening full bodied red varietals. The quality of the wines is likely to be good and we would expect volume to be down from 30% - 50%.
As far as harvest volume the most positive report we received was from Southern Oregon where one of our winemaker friends said that the crop was about 10% below normal. Our connection there also shared that the quality of the grapes was very good.
In Northern California the results appear to be far more of a mixed bag. We heard from more than one source that the harvest around Napa and Sonoma Counties were down up to 50% in the worst cases. Everyone was harvesting far less fruit than normal though, resulting in even the best cases the crop was 30% below normal. Around the appellations of Northern California like closer to home the late start to the growing year did its damage. While grape bundles were well formed the berries themselves were small to tiny. Smaller grapes mean less juice from those grapes and less wine in the end.
The quality of the crop from Northern California is also in question. We had one winemaker describe it to us this way, “It was almost like two vintages in one, a before the heat wave vintage and after the heat wave year. It made harvest very difficult and we are trying to get it right. Right now, I really don’t know how the wines are going to come out, very challenging.” We know from past years that big heat waves can actually have the same effect as a cold snap. It shuts the vines down and further delays ripening, which if the case of what is already a late year, it certainly makes a tough year tougher.
The first white and dry rosé wines from the 2022 crop will begin to release in the spring of 2023 and we will be able to get an early read on pricing of the wines due to the small supply and also the quality. Tasting a vintage is all that matters, and we will learn soon on white wines what we think of 2022. Some reds, especially the lighter bodies varietals will start to be available about a year from now. The “bigger” reds will be anywhere from 2 to 4 years out from now. It will be some time before we get a good read on the quality of those wines.
With all of the cautionary remarks we are hearing from grape growers and winemakers alike we suspect that 2022 will be another year to focus on buying wines from your favorite producers as opposed to buying wines from the vintage generally. Even in tough years like 2022 the best winemakers figure out how to assemble great wines. We hope they will do just that.