The golden rolling hills of California
Special to The Union
Until 10 days ago, this year’s harvest, not just in Nevada County, but throughout Northern California, was best described as early but good. In an instant, shake, rattle, and roll became the far catchier story.
There’s no doubt that earthquakes in California are big news.
When they rattle the vineyards and barrel rooms of Napa, the story becomes even more juicy.
Like any disaster viewed from a distance, it is easy to be uncertain exactly where it took place in relation to any people you might know who live in the general area.
I had inquiries from several long distance friends. First was, “Are you OK?” Second, “Did you feel it?” Third was more rhetorical, “I guess the price of wine is going up.”
Make no mistake, it was a terrible event with expensive repercussions, but many of the photos making the rounds are of upended barrels in winery cellars and smashed bottles on retail store floors.
It was wine rather than blood seeping out from beneath the rubble.
There is no question that the economic impact of having to shut down any part of Napa, just at the start of harvest, will be dramatic. However, it won’t have any affect on any shortage or surplus of wine.
The vast majority of this year’s grapes were still on the vine when it occurred.
While some wineries suffered losses of barrels or bottles, fortunately it was not too widespread.
Traditionally wine surpluses and shortages follow a more cyclical path. Two good indicators to look at, besides the weather, are consumption patterns and nonbearing vineyard acres.
Consumption, or how much we’re drinking, has risen in a very steady growth pattern for two decades.
Nonbearing acres, vineyards planted but not yet producing fruit, are an indicator of what’s coming. Right now that’s low, just above maintenance levels. We might be facing an oncoming shortage of wine, but it won’t be because of the earthquake.
Nor did the quake affect us here on the local level. We had an early spring, which is always scary, but the season continued through without damage.
June roared in with 100-degree temperatures but in general, it was only a moderately hot summer. This year’s grape train was rolling on the track and nothing was slowing it down.
Wineries recognized they better get ready. Picking for some started as early as the third week of August.
The challenge of an early harvest is that sugar levels can ripen faster than the phenolics. The grapes become physically ripe but not mature. It is especially important in reds.
Winemakers talk about hang time, the time on the vines when, although the grapes may be sweet enough to pick, they are left to hang to develop flavor complexity.
There was probably some relief then when the weather cooled off during the last weeks of August.
Everything slowed down. The urgency to pick lessened, allowing for coveted extra hang time.
Conversely, if the weather heats up in a hurry, even more vineyards will suddenly all come ripe at the same time creating logjams at the crush pad.
So far, everyone seems happy. Early but good remains the slogan. Still, harvest remains a nervous time. Several people have commented on uneven ripening in the reds, others on slightly less-juicy-than-normal berries.
Everybody shudders when they think of a potential drought next year. It’s too early to declare the quality of this harvest but so far everything is lining up well.
One of the reasons I am plugged into harvest this year is that I have been working with the Sierra Vintners on an event in Nevada City this Saturday called Nevada City Uncorked.
Uncorked is a walk-about-town wine and food event that includes 20 different venues throughout the downtown area. Each location, whether it is a retail shop, restaurant, bed-and-breakfast or winery tasting room, includes wine or beer tasting, and food sampling.
Eighteen wineries from Nevada and Placer Counties, and two local breweries, will be offering samples of their favorite wines, as well as highlighting their newest release of the season in celebration of the pending harvest.
Uncorked encourages a connection between the local farmers and participating restaurants and caterers celebrating the agricultural bounty of our northern Sierra Foothills, with grapes leading the parade.
Tickets are $35 in advance with an additional discount for Wine Club members of participating wineries. For more information or to purchase tickets, click on http://www.nevada citychamber.com or http://www.sierra vintners.com.
With harvests unfolding and surrounding us, Uncorked is a wonderful opportunity to talk to the winemakers, hear about the harvest, and taste their newest wines.
See you there!
Rod Byers, CWE, is a Certified Wine Educator and wine writer as well as a California State Certified Wine Judge. He is also the host of the local television show Wine Talk. You can find information about his upcoming Sierra College Wine Classes starting in September at http://www.pinehillwineworks.com and he can be reached at 530-273-2856.
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