Winegrape Quality Promises to be Above Average

October 23, 2012 • Susan Stout, Contributing Writer

Vineyard worker harvesting grapes. Photo by: Hannah Henry

Photo by Hannah Henry

KELSEYVILLE – Lake County’s winegrape growers are optimistic about this year’s harvest yields, and wineries appear to be happy with the quality, growers from throughout the county are reporting.

While the annual harvest of smaller and larger vineyards is completed, some varietals earlier than others, the Lake County Winegrape Commission is hearing from growers that the quantity of winegrapes may be less than anticipated but the quality is promising to be better than average.

Speaking about Beckstoffer Vineyards’ sauvignon blanc, malbec and cabernet sauvignon crops from the Red Hills appellation, Vineyard Operations Manager Randy Krag said, “Overall, we’ll be very close to target with the yields, and the quality is excellent this year.”

He attributes the good harvest in part to the weather this year and noted that one drawback is that Beckstoffer has had to be “in something of a holding pattern” as it waits for fermenter space to be available because some client wineries have been full with Napa and Sonoma fruit.

“The dry weather up to now has been welcome (in contrast to the last 2 years), except that (cabernet) fruit may be losing weight in the dry heat, if we can’t harvest it soon,” Krag said. “We’re irrigating later and longer than normal for this time of year, trying to keep the vines maturing normally without drying too abruptly. We expect to see wineries pick up their schedule for deliveries from Lake County over the next seven to 10 days, to finish this harvest.”

Beckstoffer has more than 850 acres of cabernet sauvignon vineyard in Lake County.

“I guess one of our biggest disadvantages is our own success: wineries have learned that the quality of Lake County cabernet holds out late into the fall better than other areas, so they tend to push us down the priority list as they concentrate elsewhere in the state,” said Krag.

Beckstoffer finished harvest of its sauvignon blanc “some weeks ago,” Krag said. The 70 acres of the sauvignon blanc is planted in locations where frost occurs early in the season. It ripens early and the vintner gets it off the vine before a freeze, he added.

As for the 23 acres of malbec, Krag said, “It is a little earlier than cabernet, and harvest is finished there, with very good quality. The malbec finally set a good crop after several years of light crops, so wineries and grower were happy about that.”

Malbec proved to be good for St. Oloff Vineyard, as well, according to Cindy Oloff.

“We’ve never had such a good malbec,” she said, adding that it is difficult to grow. The weather helped, she added, helping to produce a nice barbera crop, too. Although the barbera “is less than usual” in quantity, it “still cropped fine.”

St. Oloff Vineyard, located near Lampson Field off Highland Springs Road, Lakeport, is 17 acres of malbec, barbera, and nebbiolo grapes. Oloff noted that the nebbiolo was ripening at a slower rate than usual.

“Everybody was talking about an early harvest but sugars plateaued,” said Oloff. For all the varietals, “the fruit looks good; wineries are happy,” she added.

Hawk and Horse Vineyards near Middletown also experienced a successful season, according to co-owner Tracey Hawkins. She reported that harvest for petit verdot, petite syrah and cabernet franc started in late September. “The fruit came in at just around 25 degrees brix – perfect!” she shared in an online announcement. “Cabernet sauvignon from the 10-acre bowl came in on September 27, perfectly ripened in our biodynamic vineyard.”

Robinson Lake Vineyard Harvest, Photo provided by Robinson Lake Vineyard

Robinson Lake Vineyard Harvest, Photo provided by Robinson Lake Vineyard

In Upper Lake, winegrapes from the Robinson Lake Vineyards are showing “above average” quality and quantity, according to vineyard manager and winemaker Jonathan Walters. “What a wonderful relief it has been this growing season from the past couple of growing seasons. Mother Nature has been very kind and hasn’t caused too many challenges,” he said. Walters’ vineyards yield petite sirah, merlot and chardonnay from a total of 68 acres. “We are looking forward to tasting our labor of love in a glass very soon,” the Lake County Winegrape Commission board member added.

Lake County vineyard acreage remains steady at about 8,500 acres, and this year’s winegrape harvest is expected to be valued at $35 million-$40 million. For more information, visit the Lake County Winegrape Commission website at www.lakecountywinegrape.org.

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