We are now in the season of autumn when many fruits and vegetables complete their growing cycle and such is the case with grapes. However, grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Syrah take a longer time to mature, so I will post a Part 2 report in the last week of October.
The information contained here is gathered from personal e-mails sent to me as well as online reports and online websites.
If there is one word that can describe this year’s vintage, that word is EARLY. This is really no surprise as the US government agency in charge of gathering weather data, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has stated that 2015 is the warmest year since they began collecting data in 1885.
The first shot fired was from Domaine Chandon, Napa Valley, the US outpost of Moet & Chandon’s global empire. Chandon reported that the grapes for its sparkling wine were picked starting in July, a new record for them. Of course, the white grapes for sparkling wine need a lesser amount of sugar as they will be double-fermented in the sparkling wine process.
The next bit of information came to me from Rioja and they are expecting an early harvest as well. In Rioja Baja, home to the bulk of the region’s white grapes, the harvest started two weeks early. It is anticipated that the harvest will be lower than last year.
In France the news was somewhat different. On August 30 and September 1, hail storms hit parts of Chablis and neighboring parts of Burgundy. This spoiled what appeared to be an excellent vintage. Hail breaks the skin of the grapes, causing them to “bleed.” Pickers had to pick quickly to avoid the development of rot in the grapes, which would render them useless.
Other than that Burgundy appears to be having a good harvest. All of the grapes were picked by the first full week in September 6-11. However, the harvest is expected to be down by 30 percent but this year’s grapes were thick-skinned, so the wines could be excellent.
The Northern Rhone appears set for the best vintage in 55 years, according to Philippe Guigal, now general director and winemaker for the family enterprise. Unfortunately, his press briefing was marred by the theft of one-third of a Viognier grape crop that makes a special and expensive white wine called Luminiscene.
In Italy, the Prosecco sparkling wine region appears to be having a rebound year following a disastrous 2014, when rain decimated the grapes. However, it does take time to make a sparkling wine, Prosecco may be in short supply.
In the Northeastern United States grape harvest started during the first week of September with a good crop foreseen.
In California it has been a difficult year, as the drought coupled with ravenous wildfires terrorized the vineyards. Napa Valley was not harmed, although the recent fire did reach Lake County, just north of Napa, destroying one small family winery and vineyard.
The harvest started earlier than usual and picking began during the third week in August. However, the quality looks good. One winemaker said the grapes are concentrated and the clusters are loose.
I’ll have more complete reports on October 30.
[Article by David Swartzentruber]