By: George Balling
With a Facebook post last week from our friends at Balletto Vineyards in the Russian River Valley we learned that the 2022 wine grape harvest has started in the Western US. We are down to the last slice of the summer season around the appellations of the west and also the most nerve-wracking couple of months for farmers and winemakers alike. So far this year things have gone fairly well. in these last weeks after the grapes have gone through verasion and some of the hottest weather of the season is upon us, and grapes are vulnerable to many impacts it leads to a waiting game that will test even the most seasoned of wine professionals.
We talked to many friends across the west this last week and here is the updated look on how the 2022 vintage looks. With the very warm weather over the last several weeks here at home, the cold wet spring seems like a distant memory. It is though the most influential part of this growing season we learned. Everyone we spoke with from Washington, through Oregon to Northern California reported that the crop is small this year and it all goes back to the cold wet start to the season. In Washington the crop has been tracking a full 2 weeks behind the coldest year on record 2011. This is forcing growers to “drop” a lot of fruit so the remaining grapes will fully ripen. It will also force the harvest later into the fall which is always risky in the Northwest as the days shorten rapidly robbing the grapes of those all-important heat units vital to late season ripening. It also raises the specter of damage from the rains that start much earlier in the fall here than they do in California. For Washington and Idaho only time will tell, but a warm dry fall would help a lot.
Oregon is similarly 2 weeks behind recent years and verasion is only starting there. With sparkling wine grapes looking like a mid-September harvest, it will be a long picking season that could stretch into November in much of the state.
In Northern California, the heart of wine country, the crop also looks light. There are vineyards in the North Coast appellation of Northern Sonoma and Mendocino Counties that lost half of their crop to late spring frost. In Napa and Sonoma Counties the crop size overall is well below average from the shortened season. Northern California is currently experiencing the hottest weather of their season right now so canopy management is going to be key over the next weeks. Verasion is complete there and the grapes are vulnerable to sun burn and raisining during these hot days leading up to harvest. While the inclination for vineyards managers is to clip the canopy back to allow the sun to more thoroughly reach the grapes, a severe heat snap with a smaller canopy could spell disaster. With a smaller crop to begin with we are guessing much caution will be exercised.
The” silver lining” we learned though is even if the crop is small by historical standards the quality of the grapes is very good. There is some shatter that occurred in the vineyards of Washington State with the heavy spring and early summer rains and hail but outside of those few vineyards that were affected the rest of the west did not sustain damage to the bundles during all of that precipitation.
Across the grape growing regions all are relieved that there is little if any smoke affecting vineyards so far. 2020 Is still fresh in everyone’s mind as is the smoke damage that wiped out the entire vintage for many. While we are approaching the time of much peril from wildfire smoke, so far there has been little impacting vineyards around the west.
When we get to late August and September every grower and winemaker alike will tell you that warm dry weather is the best scenario from here until harvest is completed. While all would like to see more rain to end the long running drought in many areas, now is not the time they want to see moisture or colder than normal temperatures.
In the next 6 to 8 weeks, we will learn much of what the 2022 vintage will offer. We are keeping our fingers crossed for all of our friends in the production side of the wine business for a calm and smooth harvest.