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“Summer” 2010? Not along the coast

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We know it’s cold. We feel it everytime we go out (except for a couple hours between 1-3 p.m. when the gloom parts just long enough for the sun to come out). The Wall Street Journal wrote an article last week saying it’s the coldest summer along the West Coast in decades. Nearly every day, my local Weather Channel station predicts “near record cold” nighttime low temperatures. I’ve been saying this since March. Cold, cold, cold. 2010: the year without a spring or a summer. My TV weatherman just told us “The last time it was 80 degrees in San Francisco was on March 19. The last time it was 70 degrees was on July 4.” He is freaking out because he’s never seen anything like it.

The harvest looks particularly threatened in Sonoma County. I think growers there are legitimately concerned that the grapes won’t be ripe before the rains come. Early-ripening varieties — sparkling wines, Sauvignon Blanc — should be okay. It’s those thicker-skinned grapes that could be problems. Growers are cluster-thinning like crazy, hoping to speed up the ripening process. That’s one traditional intervention, but it’s not guaranteed. Michel-Schlumberger’s winemaker, Jim Morris, told me, “In 30 years we’ve never seen the weather this extreme.” They’re worried about rain, about mildew. At this rate, the grapes won’t be ready to pick until Oct. 22. That’s pretty late. Dry Creek Valley could have a lot of rain by then.

Napa may be in better shape. Being one mountain range further inland, it’s a little warmer and drier. But it’s not without problems. “Right now we need HEAT,” Tara Sharp, from Capture, told me. Gerard Zanzonico (Del Dotto) said, “At least two weeks behind.  More so on mountain fruit…Going to single cluster up on Howell.  It’s snip, snip here and snip, snip there and a couple of Tra, La, La’s. That’s how we work the day away in the merry old land of Napa Valley!”

In Paso Robles, this from Kevin Sass, at Justin. “We are about 2 weeks behind here in Paso Robles as well. We have not hit the panic button as we always have low crop levels. But if we don’t see some heat by Labor Day, we will have to evaluate a real HEAVY green drop.” On the other hand, just so you don’t think I’m reporting only bad news, this, from Jason Haas at Tablas Creek: “We’re most like 1999 or 2005 here in Paso, about 10 days behind normal out at Tablas Creek.  Definitely warmer than 1998, which itself was a pretty good Rhone vintage here.  We should be fine (even good) as long as we don’t get unusually early rain.”

Up in Calaveras, Scott Klann is “VERY concerned” about some of his blocks that are three weeks behind schedule.

I haven’t talked to anyone from Anderson Valley, but the average high for today (tomorrow, as you read this) in Boonville is 91, while today’s predicted high is 79. That comports with my experience of the rest of Northern Calfornia’s weather pattern this summer — anywhere from 5-12 degrees below average highs, day after day. Ditto for Sonoma’s Town Square: average high for today 86.5, while today’s predicted high is only 76.

Santa Barbara? How are you doing?

And this just in from the National Weather Service, for the 8-14 day temperature prediction. Check out the map. The blue color and capital B mean “below normal.” Meanwhile, the East continues to bake.

  1. Morning, Steve ~

    The marine layer was so thick in Santa Rosa yesterday morning, it felt like rain. Pavements were wet and big drops of water hanging from our deck railing. It let up to a light mist by 7 a.m. My husband and I typically eat outside most evenings in the summer. We have only been able to do that once since March.

    Our vineyard manager may have a report from Alexander Valley.

    Lisa

  2. Santa Rosa (Sonoma) mean normal maximum temperature (MNMAX) for july is 83.7; this year it was 71.2(!!). The mean normal (MN) is 67.5; this year it was 60.4.
    Santa Maria (Santa Barbara) MNMAX for july is 73.3; this year it was 67.6. The MN is 63.0; this year it was 59.7.
    Oakville (Napa) MNMAX for july is 85.7; this year it was 81.1 (Not so bad). The MN is 68.7; this year it was 66.0.
    Source: WRCC

  3. Meanwhile, in Charlottesville (Virginia): mean normal maximum temperature (MNMAX) for July is 86.5; this year it was 91.9. The mean normal (MN) is 76.3; this year it was 79.1.
    Source: SERCC

  4. Good Morning Steve,

    It’s 10AM and the fog is lifting on our ranch here in Los Olivos. My guess is that when the fog burns off we’ll experience another pleasant sunny day.

    This season Mother Nature has been kind to our vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley. We escaped frost this year, unlike the past two years. And although it has been cooler this year (we’re 312 degree days behind the past nine year average for our site) our Sangiovese vines entered veraison only two days later than average. My husband, John (farmrjohn@twitter) wonders if grape maturity is more dependent on calendar days rather than temperature. Typically our Sangiovese vines enter veraison 70 days after bloom, this year they entered veraison 72 days after bloom. We’re curious to see when the winemakers decide to pick and if Mother Nature throws us a curveball. We’ll know soon enough.

  5. As usual, I’ll submit a link to the Western Regional Climate Center’s graphic depicting the 30-day average maximum temperature departure from average. as you can see, Napa is in the range of 4-8 degrees below it’s typical max temps, while Sonoma is generally in the range of 6-10 degrees below:
    http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/cgi-bin/anomimage.pl?cal30dTxdep.gif

    Reaching back 60 days, the departure from average is still significant, though not quite as dramatic (which is to say, June was fairly normal):
    http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/cgi-bin/anomimage.pl?cal60dTxdep.gif

    In Oregon, meanwhile, it’s been a cool summer, for sure, though not as dramatically cool as down south, with maxes generally 0-4 degrees below average. And it looks like we are now heading into a very warm to hot spell for perhaps a full week. Here’s the 60-day average maximum temperature departure from average:
    http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/cgi-bin/anomimage.pl?ore60dTxdep.gif

  6. We are about 2 weeks behind in Knights Valley. Luckily, we are a bit warmer than other areas, normally, so we remain cautiously optimistic.

    I personally walk around the vineyard in shorts and a tee shirt, even when it is 52 F, just to try and kick start to warmer weather.

    The crop looks solid this year, and the wet weather in the spring is being dealt with by keeping the cover crop active for a bit longer to draw up the excess moisture.

    Hope springs eternal.

    Tim Carl

  7. I drive a Jeep Wrangler and this is not a good summer for no doors and no top! When will summer make it here to Sonoma county? Or will it at all?

  8. It’s been cool in the Oak Knoll District (Napa Valley) as well. I like Tim’s idea of walking the rows in tee shirt and shorts to prompt the warm weather. Like washing your car to ensure rain!

    We’re about 3 weeks behind at our OKD vineyards. The crop looks good here and we’ll be looking at thinning soon. As concerning as the cool temps are, I’m equally concerned with the moist mornings. Lots of dew.

    Nearly froze out in the bleachers at the Giants 11th inning win on Monday. Hopefully they can take the Cubs again this afternoon! Sorry Dad (native Chicagoan). Go Giants!

    Chris Corley

  9. ok in our neck of the woods

  10. Bill Green says:

    Jim Morris has been promoted to winemaker?

  11. Bill: ??

  12. Ripening is more about photosynthesis than heat. We usually just use heat as a stand in because most vineyards aren’t measuring UV pick up. Don’t get me wrong, heat matters, but I just caution the overuse of it as the only estimator of harvest timing. I source Pinot from 4 vineyards from Anderson Valley down to Chalone AVA and I would say we are only 7-10 day behind and a few sunny and warm (see I even reference temp) days and we’ll cut into that number.

    Rain at harvest is the real wildcard, but the coold summer was great for many and the vines are just chugging along.

  13. Actually blaming the cool summer weather for the late year isn’t exactly accurate. The vines have been behind since bud break and if it is significantly late, which it was this year, they never catch up whatever the temps. This year veraison is right on time if you look at the days since budbreak.

    A good example are the vineyards in the mountain appellations above the fog line that are having a warmer time of it than us low landers. They came out late too and are still late. While rain is always a concern, unless you have heavy soils and a lot of canopy, you generally have enough good weather even with rain to handle a late year like this. Even in 1998 and 2000, there were lots of distintive wines with 13.5% alcohol (that are aging quite nicely, thank you.) Always the optimist, I predict a beautiful and warm November harvest.

    What could be a concern are the cold night temperatures. We had to close
    the windows last night. It was too damn cold for our light comforters and blankets. After verasion and during ripening, the cold night temps interfere with night ripening and you get sugar accumulation in immature and unbalanced fruit. This is where those vineyards at higher elevations with the warmer night temps and sunny mornings excel. The Howell Mountain commenter should be counting his blessings. Maybe he ain’t above the fog line.

    The vines look good and the crop isn’t a killer. But for the vintner that relies on early years to let the grapes hang to 28 sugar to make that 16% alcohol wine that you give big scores? It ain’t going to happen. Too bad, they better schedule R.O. time right now, cause that’s the only way their getting their 28 sugar and the sweet taste of alcohol to cover the tannin.

    It makes me so sad.

  14. Morton, thanks for the information.

  15. Steve, one thing I wanted to mention. Several important critics panned the 2000 vintage because many of the higher profile, valley floor vineyards in Napa and Sonoma had a rough go of it. That made it difficult for anyone to sell wonderful wines that excelled on well drained, warm locations and mountain vineyards. Chardonnay producers, Pinot producers all had a rough go because the vintage was panned. An Australian friend told me he couldn’t sell his 2000 Shiraz because of our “bad” vintage.

    The point is, if a few high profile Napa Valley Cabernet producers have some problems this year, I hope cooler heads prevail and a vintage is judged by grape variety and growing region, not all lumped together with a single number rating a vintage. I suspect we will have some wonderful Pinots, crisp fragrant whites, and many exciting wines whatever the outcome for Cabernet.

  16. Morton, you raise an important point. I think the day is over when Jim Laube can single-handedly destroy an entire California vintage. I don’t think he would even try to do that anymore. We have matured to the point where we realize that it’s more important to focus on individual regions, sub-regions, varieties and producers. In any vintage, there can be superior wines, especially in California. Including 2010 Cabernet.

  17. Seems like a lot of unnecessary panic to me. Welcome to farming…

  18. Wanted to clear up a few things. Jim Morris has not been promoted to Winemaker (still Retail and Hospitality manager). This weather isn’t extreme. We will be harvesting grapes before October 22. In fact the only grapes that I can see going past Oct. 22 might be a cabernet or two and our Cane Cut Semillon. Stay tuned…

    Here in Dry Creek Valley (especially on the Benches and Bradford Mt.) the season has been kind. The wet mornings had challenged us early, but everything seems to be right on track now thanks to our top-shelf vineyard crew. Veraison is complete in Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and I’m very happy with vine/berry development. Like Morton mentions, this may be a great vintage to see physiological ripeness at lower sugars giving us an opportunity to see some lower alcohol wines. I’m grinning just thinking about it.

    Mike Brunson
    Winemaker/Vineyard Manager
    Michel-Schlumberger

  19. David raised an important point. To estimate this vintage’s potential (in California), it is necessary to take into account this season’s (April-July) accumulated solar radiation, as well.
    So far, only the Santa Rosa station is showing a significant departure from normal: 756.4 KWh/m2 (2010) vs. 808.9 (Normal); with Oakville at 796.7 (2010) vs. 838.1 (Norm.); and Carneros, 802.8 (2010) vs. 806.4 (Norm.).

  20. Hi Mike, sorry for the (temporary) demotion. Take an extra week vacation — on me.

  21. Dear Steve,

    I think there is a lot of misinformation out there about cool weather and harvest. First, heat does not ripen fruit. Good old solar radiation is what photosynthesis responds to. Also, moderate temperatures in a growing season define classical vintages — color, tannin and fruit concentration. Photosynthesis slows around 90 and shuts down after 95 degrees, protecting the plant from loss of water.

    I believe what some of the reports about our current cool summer are referring to is the lack of early morning solar radiation, as well as the cooler nights that lack the temperature to process what photosynthesis has occurred during the day. But it was quite common for Alexander Valley to be bathed in fog up to 10 am; at least that is the way it was 30 years ago. It was one reason why the Alexander Valley Wine Growers Association recommended the appellation line to be drawn at the Geyserville bridge crossing on Hwy 128 — not at the northern end of Cloverdale.

    It is also important to remember that early ripening fruit, such as Chardonnay, is not in danger of a harvest in early October as long as it doesn’t rain, of course. But rain can and has occurred in early and late harvests; but obviously the sooner the better to reduce risk. What is really at risk is this:
    a) vines that are planted in marginal conditions that are not ideal to their cultivar
    b) over cropping
    The growers we work with have been given specific instructions as to what blocks to drop fruit and what blocks are balanced. My last visit to our Chardonnay growers, I estimated that the fruit was two weeks behind schedule. But maturation of fruit is not on a linear plane. Two weeks in September is vastly different than two weeks in October. There is less day light and the nights are much colder slowing down sugar accumulation.

    Overall, the crops I have observed, however, other than Syar and Green Valley, are looking really good. If the balance of fruit maturation goes well, we can be picking at a lower brix rather than having to drive the sugars higher to get flavor. This I am very excited about. But if certain growers get greedy and hang a lot of fruit thinking that a heat wave will push the sugars, I will be less than sanguine about the fruit quality.

    The bottom line is that although this growing season is one of our cooler years (mildew pressures have been high all season), the possibility for producing a great wine this year is very high. Here are some historical harvest dates at Jordan to consider:
    Our first harvest in 1976 didn’t start until October 13.
    1977: we started on October 5.
    1978: we started the last week of Sept.
    And those were draught years. 1979 we started again in October.

    But in terms of economy, what is really sad is the number of growers that have spent their entire year farming their vineyards and yet have no buyers.

    Rob

  22. Rob, thanks for weighing in. Gotta feel sorry for those growers.

  23. Greg Brumley says:

    Thanks for Morton’s and Rob Davis’ insights.

    Just another day at Heimoff Wine University.

    Had an interesting conversation yesterday with a lady whose daughter is a vintner in Virginia. They expect their harvest to be complete around mid-September? Temperatures or no, Rob & Morton remind us this crisis will, hopefully, end up having been largely emotional. And the epicenter of American wine making will not shift to the Shenandoah Valley in 2010.

  24. I am very glad to see the comments of Rob Davis and Morton to counter some of the doomsayers getting themselves worked up to slam the vintage. Here on Diamond Mountain these last few weeks the fog has been burning off around 9 or 10 (actually a few days recently were fog-less) with temperatures building to the mid to high 80′s. Photosynthesis is optimum between 75 and 82 degrees, so these days, as one of my colleagues said, may seem cool to humans but they are bliss for vines. Looks like we should have full veraison in Cab by the end of this week, so in about 45 days we should have harvest (that is if it doesn’t get real hot and the stomates start shutting down in the afternoon) which would put it about Oct. 6 to 8–that would not be abnormal!

    Yes, cool vintages like this one (so far) often give us long aging wines. Our 2000 is really showing well, though some pundits wrote off the vintage. I think it is true that those with vineyards in particularly warm sites often don’t get sufficient flavor and aroma development in hot vintages, which drives them towards high brix in order to get some decent hang time driving the high alcohol trend. I would rather deal with a cooler site and a moderate weather pattern than fall into that particular black hole.

  25. Bill, would you be interested in setting up a tasting of 2000 Diamond Mountain Cabernets?

  26. Steve, that is a great idea. I am at a wine event on Oahu for a few days (no fog here), will be back in the ‘hood next week, and will see how many I can round up.

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