PASO ROBLES — Wine grape growers in the Paso Robles AVA are still watching, waiting and more importantly looking for buyers.
Harvest is going to start late again this year. It is still a couple of weeks away from earnestly beginning, according to Mindy Allen, of Custom Vineyard Application and Martinez Farming, both based in Templeton.
“We just needed the heat to ripen the fruit,” Allen said, adding that the daytime highs — upper 80s to upper 90s — seen this week and projected into next week are just what they need. “We’ve got the heat now which we need. We are starting to catch up a little bit on the number of our growing degree days.”
In many ways, 2019 mirrors 2018, both had wet winters and mild springs and as a result, the harvest didn’t really get rolling until mid-September and continued through the end of November.
“Last year we didn’t finish until Thanksgiving and I guarantee this year will be the same,” said Allen, who has more than 20 years of experience in the wine grape growing business.
Part of the reason for the late start to harvest this year is “we had a really wet winter and a very cool spring so what happened was there was so much moisture in the soil that didn’t evaporate,” Allen said.
Because of all of the moisture and cool spring, there was a concern that shatter would devastate the crop as it did in 2015.
Grape shatter, known as coulure in French, is a viticultural hazard that is the result of metabolic reactions to weather conditions that causes a failure of grapes to develop after flowering. Fruit setting usually takes place in May here.
“We were really concerned we were going to have shatter and mimick 2015 when from bloom to set there wasn't enough heat to set the fruit,” Allen said. “But luckily during those two weeks we had just enough heat and we had a good set. It was a miracle really.”
The cool temperatures also pushed back veraison — the stage when the grape berries begin the ripening process. It normally takes place 40 to 50 days after fruit set. During this stage, the colors of the grape take form — red/black or yellow/green depending on the grape varieties.
Following fruit set, the grape berries are green and hard to the touch. They begin to grow to about half their final size when they enter the stage of veraison.
Allen says some vineyards are still going through veraison.
“I have some stuff that is only 30 percent through veraison,” she said.
Another concern is uneven ripening, but Allen said if the warmer temperatures continue without any dramatic spikes up or down everything is going to be OK in the vineyard.
“Every year mother nature gives us some type of challenge and we always get through it,” Allen said. “If we can get some evening ripening this should be a fantastic vintage.”
Last year was a banner year in terms of the quantity of fruit and the quality is being hailed as well. This year appears to be another sizable crop and if everything stays on track quality is expected to be outstanding once again.
While the weather has been a concern, Allen said the greater issue will be finding a home for all of the fruit. Supply is greater than demand this year, Allen said.
“The bigger focus is the amount of unsold fruit,” Allen said. “I think every single once of us knows someone with unsold fruit.”