Local wineries expecting good harvest among the vines this year | TheUnion.com

Local wineries expecting good harvest among the vines this year

Nevada County vintners are projecting a good harvest among the vines this season, despite a sour economy that meant fewer buyers during the recent Gold Harvest Wine Trail tour.

Nevada County still enjoys its reputation as an emerging area for winemaking, said vintner Lynn Wilson of Pilot Peak Winery, one of a dozen wineries that showcased its wares over the weekend.

Wilson grows sauvignon blanc, granache and mouvedre grapes on six acres near Penn Valley, and he serves as the president of the Northern Sierra Wine Country Association.

“I don’t think we have a good data point to determine whether (business) has been down. We’ve always been growing and developing as a wine region,” he said.

Wine is recession-proof because people drink when things are going well and drink when they aren’t, Wilson said. “People drink no matter what.”

Among the 12 wineries that participated in the Wine Tour, reports varied as to the weekend’s turnout.

While attendance was up for some wineries ” which boosts their exposure to the public ” sales were not, according to several vintners contacted by The Union.

“We had a really nice crowd,” said Delia Orduna, director of sales at Nevada City Winery. “Compared to last year, with the economy the way it is, we’re still pretty happy,” she said, noting that 300 attendees visited the winery on Saturday.

At Lucchesi Vineyards and Winery, about 300 people also came ” down from last year, co-owner Linda Glouth said.

“Last year, people were still drunk on the euphoria of a great economy,” Glouth said. Her visitors were mostly “our wonderful locals,” and far fewer Central Valley visitors stopped by than on previous tour weekends, she added.

At Pilot Peak, the number of people on the tour was up 30 percent, from 201 visitors last year to 283 people in 2008, co-owner Jacque Wilson said.

But overall sales at the winery are down 9 percent from last year, she added.

At Double Oak Vineyards on the San Juan Ridge, 150 people visited the vineyard, about average compared to years past, co-owner Virginia Hilsman said.

“I think it went well, and people seemed to enjoy themselves. It always helps with exposure because there were people here that had never been here before,” she said. “Each year, more people are exposed to our wine.”

The eco-friendly vineyard, which uses a solar system to generate almost all of its power, consists of 81⁄2 acres of cabernet, zinfandel, chardonnay and merlot grapes.

Wine production has been Nevada County’s No. 3 agricultural crop for the past several years. In 2006, the county’s winegrape crop was valued at $1.3 million, trailing livestock and timber.

In 2007, wine grapes were valued at just over $2 million, according to the agricultural commissioner’s office.

A late April freeze means some of the grapes on the vine are smaller, but have a more intense flavor, Wilson said.

“This year, we’ve seen Mother Nature at her best,” he added, noting that because of the intensely warm weather that followed April, about 80 percent of the harvest is ready to be picked.

County Agricultural Commissioner Jeff Pyleman said the tricky weather patterns likely will lead to lower yields this year.

In 2007, the county’s 295 acres of red wine grapes yielded 4.3 tons per acre, and the county’s 90 acres of whites yielded four tons per acre, he said.

Overall, “I think we’re going to see an increase (over time),” Pyleman said. “I hope wine grapes will increase with the other commodities.”

Some wineries, including Montoliva Winery in Chicago Park, allowed visitors to pull grapes from the vine over the weekend because the fruit is ready to be picked.

Crowds were more abundant than usual, Montoliva owner Mark Henry said, and they took to picking the grapes as Henry instructed them on what to look for ” the texture of the skin of the grape, and how the seeds tasted.

“These are some of the same things we look for,” he added.

To contact Staff Writer David Mirhadi, e-mail dmirhadi@theunion.com or call 477-4239.

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