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Northern California Harvest

 Projections from Seven Major Viticultural Regions

August is sprinting rapidly by, and the 2002 grape harvest is approaching just as quickly. Throughout wine country, winemaking teams dash around like expecting parents, anxiously preparing their wineries for the imminent onslaught of ripe grapes ready for the press. Here's an update of conditions in seven Northern California viticultural regions.

Sonoma/ Carneros

In Carneros, Gloria Ferrer's 16-year veterans, winemaker Bob Iantosca and vineyard manager Mike Crumly, plan to harvest Pinot Noir for sparkling wine at 2 AM on Monday, the 26th of August, followed by Chardonnay for sparkling wine, together accounting for two-thirds of their total crop. Still-wine grapes will follow- Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Syrah, finishing around mid-October. While the natural crop size is slightly larger than last year's, at Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves, they'll be harvesting fewer grapes, due to more aggressive cluster dropping pre-harvest. Bob, Mike and crew will bring in 1,700 tons of estate grapes, and crush an additional 800 tons from long-term contracts with Sonoma County growers. Mike expects Carneros Pinot Noir to be especially good this year: "The grapes are pristine, with no mildew or disease. A little rainfall during bloom resulted in some shot berries, so there are fewer grapes per cluster and the quality is terrific. We had a little heat spike in early August, but nothing problematic. It's tempting fate to make projections at this point, but it should be a great year if the weather holds up," he said. *First harvest photo/film opportunity, just 45 minutes north of San Francisco and the East Bay; 90 minutes north of San Jose.

South Sonoma/Carneros Highlands

Jim Bundschu, chairman and winegrower at his family's Gundlach-Bundschu winery, anticipates harvesting Gewurztraminer grapes between the 5th and 7th of September. Jim posits that they should be finished by 25 October, "because that's when I'm going away," he jokes. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay will succeed Gewurztraminer, followed by Merlot and Cabernet. The Gundlach-Bundschu team expects to harvest 2 ¾ to 3 ¼ tons per acre, for a total of 780 to 800 tons. Jim thinks this year's crop will be about 10% larger than last year's, "Thanks to Mother Nature. We had a more benevolent springtime, with no heat spell at bloom to affect flowering. August was cooler, with lots of fog and no heat wave during veraison- it was a cool, steady season. Because of the good, long, hang time, the grapes have excellent flavor development." Asked to rate the quality of the harvest, Jim responded, "Excellent- as long as we continue to pay attention. We've worked very hard all year long to make sure that the grapes are the highest quality possible. Veraison was extended and somewhat uneven, due to the cool weather; we went through the vineyards four times to drop green clusters and wings." Merlot will star this year, Jim believes: The ripening is the most uniform we've ever seen."

West Sonoma/ Sonoma Coast

In West Sonoma, Sonoma-Cutrer's Kirk Lokka expects to bring in his first Chardonnay grapes around the 1st of September, finishing in his cooler vineyards around 5 weeks later. Yield will be about 3 ½ tons per acre, for a total of 3000 tons. Kirk says this year's crop is just slightly larger than last year's, and overall quality is "very, very, good. It was an average to cool year, with plenty of hang time. We're seeing more developed flavors at lower sugar levels, so we may be able to pick earlier, if we don't have any run-ins with El Niño."

North Sonoma/ Alexander Valley's "Golden Triangle"

Lancaster Estate's winemaker and vineyard manager, Dave Elliott, thinks
harvest is still a ways off in the Alexander Valley's Golden Triangle-
"about mid-September," he says. Malbec will be the first grape harvested,
followed by Merlot, Petite Verdot, Cabernet Franc, concluding with Cabernet Sauvignon around the end of October. Dave predicts a yield of about 3 ½ tons per acre, for a total of close to 200 tons. They'll harvest 25 more tons this year than last, thanks to new vines reaching maturity; otherwise, this year's crop would be slightly smaller, due to smaller berry size. The weather in the Golden Triangle was near-perfect this season. "We had ideal conditions at set and bloom. If the cool, foggy mornings keep up, it will be a wonderful year. We had no frost and little rain after set, so we have been able to completely control the amount of water that reached the vines." Asked about potential frontrunners, Elliott responded, "At the cool end of the valley, we never have any trouble ripening Merlot. In a year like this, Cabernet will really shine if conditions continue."

Napa Valley/ Stags Leap District

Harvest is still about a week off in Napa Valley's Stags Leap viticultural
district, according to S. Anderson winemaker Timothy Milos. Harvest will
end "when the last fruit comes in," he quips, probably around the end of
October. Tim and crew expect to harvest Stags Leap Merlot first, followed by Napa Valley Zinfandel, then Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petite Verdot. Thanks to an excellent growing season of mostly moderate temperatures and precipitation, quantities will be about the same as last year, with average yields about 3 tons per acre, for a total yield of nearly 200 tons. Tim is extremely enthusiastic about the quality of the 2002 harvest: "Barring catastrophe, we're looking at the best vintage and finest Cabernet in S. Anderson history."

San Francisco Bay/ Livermore Valley

At Livermore Valley's Wente Vineyards, 4th generation vintner Philip Wente predicts that harvest will commence the week of September 3rd, and continue through the third week of October. Sauvignon Blanc will be brought in first, with Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Syrah to follow. Phil expects to harvest a little less than 4 tons per acre for a total of approximately 4000 tons, 5 to 10% fewer grapes than the 2001 yield. "The 2002 growing season was just about trouble free- a relatively cool year with a few short hot spells, and lower temperatures during bloom, resulting in fewer, smaller berries with good flavor concentration. Cabernet is the most consistent and uniform varietal, and should be exceptional; Zinfandel is also looking very good. We have every expectation for a really outstanding harvest if current conditions prevail."


In Monterey, Philip Wente believes they'll begin harvesting sparkling wine
grapes the week before Labor Day. Due to Monterey's cool Region 1 climate, harvest will run a bit longer, probably through the end of October. The vineyard crew will pick about 4 ½ tons per acre of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Merlot, for a total of around 2,000 tons. This year's crop will be approximately 20% smaller than last year's, as 2002's cooler, windier, foggier conditions during flower set led to fewer, smaller berries. "Knock on wood, but it looks like a wonderful year, especially for Pinot Noir," Phil said.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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