Harvest 2023 is Underway
By: George Balling
The 2023 wine grape harvest in the Western US has officially started, and while there are some small challenges, they are small and picking is progressing smoothly so far. This is the time of year when emotions run high, especially for winemakers and grape growers. No matter how good the growing season has been so far this is when much can go wrong. The grapes have gone through verasion making their skins porous to everything from rain water to smoke. Canopy management is also key once we get to September. The urge is to cut back the canopy of leaves that overhang the fruit to spur further ripening with the more angled sunlight late in the summer. It comes with risk though, if you get too aggressive in the cutting of leaves you can leave the bundles of grapes exposed to sun burn and raisining if temperature spike.
First to the weather. Across the west it has been consistent and warm with the exception of some rain issues. The remnants of Hurricane Hillary moved north through the Golden State and made it all the way to Idaho last week. While some vineyards in Southern California near Santa Barbara did receive significant rain, it was followed quickly by warm dry and breezy weather so there was no real damage done. As the storm moved north the track was far enough to the east that the vineyards of Napa, Sonoma and Lake Counties did not receive any rain.
Here in the vineyards of the Northwest we have received some moisture but nothing like we received here in Kootenai County and the surrounding area. Between the remnants of Hurricane Hillary and the storm that moved through last Wednesday and Thursday we received quite a bit of rain. On Wednesday though, I talked to a couple of wineries in Walla Walla who reported it was sunny, dry and mild there while here at home we never made it out of the 60s and in some areas received over an inch of rain.
Outside of rain, the grape harvest across California remains largely behind schedule due to the very cool and in some places wet spring. As we talked about in one of our previous columns, there were many days right through June when temperatures in Napa and Sonoma were 30 degrees below what they were here in Idaho. The cool spring was followed by an equally cool summer for much of the season. Right now, harvest is running a solid 2 to 4 weeks behind normal. The harvest of white grapes has now started, as well as the picking of some reds used in both dry rosé and sparkling wine production. Due to all the cool weather while the grapes are very healthy and largely disease free, the bundles and individual berries themselves are smaller than normal making for what will likely be a smaller than normal tonnage harvested.
The risk for California with a late harvest is the other conditions that can develop as picking slips further into the fall. Right now we can be looking at harvest extending into November! Rain becomes a bigger possibility especially with a developing El Nino weather pattern. Fall is also when the Santa Ana and Diablo wind events start. They bring the increased chances of wildfire risk and the smoke that comes with them. So far in California smoke has not been an issue at all, the cool wet spring, the tropical storm influence and the epic rain and snow falls of last winter have kept much of the state free of large-scale wildfires and smoke.
Here in the Northwest smoke has been more of an issue. Oregon, Washington and Idaho have all received significant smoke from the wildfires burning across Western Canada. The recent large-scale fires here in North Idaho and the ones that started last week across Eastern Washington have all contributed to our at times smokey skies as well. In talking to friends both in Walla Walla and across the appellations of the Columbia Basin the impacts have been very slight. While the smoke did at times persist for days at a time, it wasn’t as concentrated as some other years and in many cases, it was high enough in the atmosphere to not impact the grapes.
Especially in California but across The West there is still much ground to travel before harvest is complete, so far though it is going smoothly. The three keywords so far appear to be late, light but healthy. We will continue to keep you posted as we move through the picking.