Harvesting at night keeps grapes and vineyard workers cool, enhancing quality and reducing energy needed to chill the fruit—just one of the many sustainable practices used to make California wine.
Vintners and growers throughout California reported another high quality and generous vintage in 2013. Following a warm and dry spring with near ideal conditions for bringing grapes to maturity, harvest was remarkably smooth and wineries are at capacity and working with some very high quality winegrapes.
“Early on, the season was marked by healthy winter rains, followed by a spring and summer that showed some of the lowest rainfalls we have seen in a long time,” said Steve Smit, Vice President of Vineyard Operations for Constellation Brands. “We saw very few frost nights in the spring, few significant heat spikes and almost no high wind events. All of this—combined with uniform growing days—is exactly what a winemaker wants to see leading up to harvest. Across the board, our fruit showed great balance of acidity and sugar, good color and tannin structure and optimal flavor development.”
According to Nat DiBuduo, President of Allied Grape Growers, the crop estimate in 2013 equals that of 2012. “We believe the winegrape crush could be four million tons again,” he stated. “While the coastal regions are probably down in crop size, the interior regions are estimated to be as big as or bigger than in 2012. More new acreage has come into production this year, mostly in the interior,” said DiBuduo.
Winemakers and vineyard managers around the state are lauding the excellent quality of the vintage. “In 2013, Monterey growers were blessed with another great vintage,” said Charlie Hossom, Director of Viticulture at Delicato Family Vineyards. “It is a bit unusual to have a vintage of this quality following the standout vintage we had in 2012.”
Paul Draper, CEO and Winemaker at Ridge Vineyards called it “a truly great vintage.” “With virtually no rain since last December, the growing season began early. Our vineyards at Monte Bello in the Santa Cruz Mountains are not irrigated, so the lack of spring rain meant grapes at harvest that were among the smallest we have seen. Harvest began a record two weeks early and we were picking fully ripe fruit as quickly as possible so as not to allow it to over ripen. Flavors and color extraction were intense. Tannins are quite fine and acidity firm. Typically we see variation in depth and complexity across the 40 some parcels, but this year virtually every one produced exceptionally high quality.”
Winemakers in the North Coast are equally optimistic. “The 2013 growing season began early, with a warm and dry spring, and the weather stayed absolutely beautiful all the way through an early harvest,” said Jon Ruel, President of Trefethen Family Vineyards and President of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers. “The whites, already dry, taste fantastic and yields were a bit above average. Grower reports on yields for the red varieties are less consistent, with some ‘up’ and others ‘down,’ but everyone agrees that the quality appears to be excellent. Cabernet Sauvignon is showing very strong tannins and color early in fermentation leading to some earlier pressing. We feel very fortunate to have had such a great harvest on the heels of the excellent 2012.”
“For Sonoma County Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the 2013 growing season essentially offered conditions that were various degrees of wonderful,” said James Hall, Co-founder and Winemaker at Patz & Hall. “There was a synchronicity to how everything developed. Every time it looked like there might be a challenge, Mother Nature delivered just the right weather to turn the potential issue into a positive. For both our reds and whites, the wines are bright and energetic, with detailed aromatics, clearly delineated vineyard character and lots of complexity. We work with a number of great growers in Sonoma County and beyond, and everyone is incredibly happy, verging on ecstatic.”
In Lodi, Aaron Lange, Viticulture Operations for Lange Twins Winery, also noted an early start to harvest. “Weather cooperated during harvest with daytime temperatures in the 80s to low 90s and only in the 50s at night, which was perfect to develop flavor intensity. The yields were a little larger than anticipated, making crop thinning a must on certain varietals to ensure quality. We had an unexpected one-half inch of rain in mid-September that made us worry about our late ripening varieties, but those who had aggressively thinned early in the season and continued to manage crop closely after the rains were rewarded with excellent color and flavor intensity, especially in Zinfandel.”
“California’s excellent 2013 vintage statewide will allow wine lovers in the U.S and the world to continue to enjoy their favorite Golden State wines,” said Robert P. (Bobby) Koch, President and CEO of Wine Institute. “As the world’s fourth largest wine producer, we are proud of our skilled vintners and growers, recognized for growing and making their wines in a sustainable manner.””The 2013 harvest looks like it’s going to be a classic in Paso Robles,” said Jason Haas, Partner and General Manager at Tablas Creek Vineyard. “A growing season without either heat spikes or cool stretches produced our earliest finish to harvest since 2001, and one of our shortest ever. Yields were just below average, down 20 percent from 2012, with good ripeness and balance. We’re seeing very dark colors already and excellent intensity, similar in many ways to 2007, though a touch lower sugars at picking.”
VINTNER QUOTES AND NOTES FROM THROUGHOUT CALIFORNIA
Randall Graham, Founder and President, Bonny Doon Vineyard
2013 was an exceptionally early vintage for the Central Coast, the earliest in memory by at least three to four weeks, undoubtedly due in part to the preternaturally dry winter and mild spring. The fruit from Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara County was nevertheless lovely, flavorful and above all, fully ripe. The fruit that we received from the old vineyards in the sandy Delta was also quite exceptional, honestly the best Mourvèdre I’ve seen in years—great intensity achieved at relatively modest levels of sugar development. Yields were good to maybe slightly above average, though by no means prodigiously Biblical as they were in 2012. We observed generally good acidities in most grapes. It feels utterly odd to have all of our grapes in the barn before the middle of October, but I am rather enjoying the autumnal weather in the balmy quarter of Santa Cruz.
John Concannon, Fourth-Generation Vintner, Concannon Vineyard
This year’s harvest started about a week earlier than last year’s due to a warmer summer and a drier spring, giving us a nearly perfect growing season. Our Chardonnay fruit is of excellent quality, with particularly good yields, and the red varietals are showing great color with good tannins and very nice fruit concentrations. This year’s Petite Sirah looks to be our best in the last five years showing amazing color and pure varietal character across all of our vineyards. Overall, this year’s harvest was one of our smoothest running harvests in the last 10 years due to a consistently warm summer, slow maturation and plenty of hang time.
Stuart Spencer, Owner/Winemaker, St. Amant Winery
2013 was another abundant year for Lodi vineyards with fairly large yields across most varieties. Harvest got off to an early start due to a warm spring, but ultimately dragged on for most growers throughout the month of October. Capacity issues seemed to challenge most vintners this year as many varieties ripened up simultaneously. Empty tanks and barrels were definitely at a premium this year. While spring conditions were warm, summer saw relatively moderate temperatures creating conditions for great quality wines. Optimally farmed vineyards produced delicious vibrant wines that will surely be crowd pleasers.
Darin Peterson, Assistant Winemaker, Quady Winery
2013 marked another dry year in Madera with rainfall below average. Warm early weather accelerated vine development and resulted in one of our earliest harvests. White varieties were harvested two weeks earlier than average, a pattern that continued on through the season with the red varieties. This left some wineries scrambling to empty their tanks. With some streaks of hot, dry temperatures in the summer, mildew management was easier than in the last few years. Many area growers reported yield increases of 10 percent over last year.
Martha Barra, Owner, Barra of Mendocino
From a Mendocino County perspective, it has been one of the easiest harvests (if there ever is an easy one) on record. Except for the early rains producing about 1.5 to 2 inches of rain in the North County in mid-September, the weather has cooperated. Warm days and cool, cool nights allowed the grapes to ripen slowly and acids/pH are in balance. Every winemaker we have talked to is ecstatic about the rich, mature flavors in the wines. It’s time to celebrate our dedicated workers with a sumptuous harvest party in their honor.
Milla Handley, Owner/Winemaker, Handley Cellars
Our 2013 harvest was bountiful; the weather was mild and the harvest was large with good flavors. One very light rain event about half way through harvest didn’t create any mold or problems. I can’t remember a year with both good weather and only a few hot spells. The first grapes we received were Sauvignon Blanc from Boonville on Sept. 7; the last grapes were on Oct.6, from a local grower just up the road from Handley.
Jeff Meier, COO and Director of Winemaking, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines
In Monterey County’s Arroyo Seco we saw cooler weather in July and August, with a lot of fog and clouds, which delayed the ripening of the grapes and prolonged our harvest dates. As a result, the acids are looking typical for a coolish vintage, which will give the wines lovely structure and focus. The extra hang time on the Pinot Noir has also allowed for the signature fabulous color that is characteristic of Arroyo Seco Pinot Noir. Our Riesling and Valdiguié are the last grapes that we are currently harvesting before we wrap up on this year’s amazing Arroyo Seco vintage.
Kristin Belair, Winemaker, Honig Vineyard & Winery
What a fantastic vintage it has been. Our mid-August start was fast and furious with the larger than normal Sauvignon Blanc crop. Having some extra fruit on the vines this season was a plus as it allowed the flavors to develop without sugars skyrocketing. The crop seems to be about average or slightly less in size. This vintage could be epic!
Joel Gott, Winemaker, Joel Gott Wines
Overall 2013 was one of the greatest vintages in the last 20 years. The colors, the tannins and what Mother Nature gave us – the ultimate weather package. We had cool consistent temperatures, the rising heat, only one rain storm and not many days over 100 degrees. Quantity and Quality – it all came together this year.
PASO ROBLES/SAN LUIS OBISPO
Jason Diefenderfer, Winemaker, Hope Family Wines
When asked, every winemaker answers, “This is the best vintage ever!” Truthfully though, this harvest in Paso Robles was one for the record books. Veraison was a couple of weeks ahead of schedule, so we’ve had the long hang time that is important to great vintages. We experienced a hot early summer, it cooled some midsummer, the heat returned for the end of summer and remained well into the early fall. The outcome of these ideal weather conditions was early brix accumulation with high acidities. The deciding factor for this year’s harvest was the balance of acids and flavors, almost ignoring the brix levels. I remember that I said last year, “Best Vintage in Ten Years.” While that was and remains true, I do believe that 2013 will imprint those California wines with the great color, flavor, and balanced tannins that have helped us become a world-class wine region.
Steve Fennell, Winemaker/General Manager, Sanford Winery
I am extremely pleased with the 2013 vintage. We had reasonably good yields for both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and the quality was excellent across our two estate vineyards. Although the growing season was relatively warm and extremely dry, we didn’t experience any real heat spikes, which can be rough on Pinot. We were able to harvest each block as it became optimally ripe, which was at lower than average sugar levels. The wines, thus far, show great balance and structure.
Karen Steinwachs, Winemaker, Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard
The 2013 harvest was fast, furious, bountiful and beautiful! With a record early start in August and a finish by the end of October, everyone here in Santa Barbara County is smiling. From east to west in our transverse valleys, growers are thrilled with the plentiful yields and winemakers are exalting the first indications of the quality of the young wines. Warm and even temperatures throughout the growing season, with little frost pressure in the spring and short-lived heat spikes in the summer months, resulted in early seed ripening, beautiful stem lignification and superb balance of flavor and acidity. Exceptional conditions prevailed throughout our early but long growing season. An exciting and exceptional vintage.
SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS
Bill Cooper, Winemaker & Sales, Cooper-Garrod Estate Vineyards
Early winter rains and a dry spring fueled speculation early on that the Santa Cruz Mountains harvest might be several weeks earlier than the “norm.” As summer progressed, we enjoyed a well-modulated growing season of warm days and cool nights with only one brief period of very high temperatures. What is normally a 10-week harvest was compressed into five with good yields and fine quality grapes.
Stewart Perry, Owner/Winemaker, Fawnridge Winery
Once again, we here on the Western Slope of the Sierras enjoyed a fantastic growing season. Overall moderate temperatures and just a brief peak in warmer conditions to support a healthy bud-break allowed vineyards to flourish. This year was once again an early harvest. It has brought a good yield, with very impressive fruit. The real challenge was finding enough barrels to accommodate the wine being pressed. The public should be enjoying some very nice Barbera, Syrah, Sangiovese and Zinfandel wines upon their later release throughout the foothills.
Sam Patterson Winemaker/Viticulturist, Shadow Ranch Vineyard
The 2013 harvest was uniform and consistent. The Sierra Foothills saw a warm growing season, not too hot, not too cold, which produced ideal growing conditions and an early harvest season. Across the board, all varieties ripened evenly and produced fruit balanced between ideal sugar and acidity. Moderate vine yield adds to the quality harvest. We are looking forward to the exceptional wines that will be produced from the 2013 vintage.
Hank Wetzel, Proprietor & General Manager, Alexander Valley Vineyards
We’ve had a great harvest and we’re almost done. Yields were almost as high as last year and the quality is great. Soon after harvest began, space at the winery was at a premium, but working round-the-clock, my crew found the room. Fermentation space was so tight that I am already looking at additional equipment for next year. Rich well-balanced complex wines will be the result of this harvest.
Steven MacRostie, Owner/Winemaker, MacRostie Winery
In general, it was a very successful, trouble-free vintage. The growing season got off to a fast start in April and never really slowed down until mid-September, which provided some time for the wineries to comfortably pace their intake of fruit. Harvest start in mid-August was early compared to those of recent years, but with a mid-October conclusion, overall duration of eight weeks was about normal. Best of all, the season was warm enough and early enough to bring all grapes to delicious full ripeness without weather mishaps. The 2013 wines from Sonoma are going to be superb!
Les Linkogle, Owner/Winemaker, Briar Rose Winery
In 2013, the Temecula Valley harvest was exceptional, literally perfect. This year was as close to a vintage year as we have seen. The region experienced a warm, dry spring, giving way to gradually rising temperatures during the summer days and cool, moist summer nights. These ideal growing conditions produced an overall robust harvest with greater than normal yields. The reds are deep in color with beautiful varietal expressions and flavors while exhibiting perfect acid balances. The Rhone varietals grown in the region are also poised to produce flavor-packed, full-bodied, balanced, world-class wines.