Here we are at the beginning of September so the wine grape harvest has started or is about to start in the appellations across the Northern Hemisphere. We have talked and emailed with grape growers and winemakers from many locations and here is what we have learned as we enter this crucial phase of the 2017 vintage.
It is going to be a tough year for much of Europe especially the northern regions. This past spring there was significant frost damage especially in Northern France and Northern Italy. The areas hit by the unseasonably cold temperatures are seeing reductions in crop levels from 40% to 60% with some specific areas not having enough grapes to even make a crop! Further to the south closer to the Mediterranean and other coastal areas the outlook is better but even here the tough spring has reduced crop size and quality. So after a stellar 2015 and very good 2016, 2017 will be small and of questionable quality for much of the “old world”.
California is in the midst of bringing home a very good year. The crop looks about average to slightly above average in size depending on appellation and vineyard specific circumstances. The quality looks very good to great with harvest happening at about the average time. The past 2 years have been very early picks but the more moderate and at times up and down weather during the 2017 growing season appears to have things on track for a more normal pick date. The average harvest time frames have also encouraged growers and winemakers alike to leave the canopy largely intact heading into September.
The Canopy refers to the leaves of the vines that overhang the grapes and protect them from getting too much sun which can result in sunburn for the grapes. This year it’s a fortuitous occurrence that all is on time and the canopy has been left intact as much of California is dealing with a record breaking heat wave this week. Temperatures in San Francisco reached 106 degrees on Friday and much of wine country will be over 110 degrees the entire week. This will likely slow the harvest just a bit but with good leaf cover and some additional water any damage to the crop should be mitigated.
Oregon has a bigger issue. While wildfires have been a huge event for much of the west this hot and dry summer Oregon is experiencing some of the worst of it. There are many fires burning across the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon and in the Willamette Valley in the northern part of the state. Smoke taint is a real risk for much of the crop. While the size and quality of the crop is very good the potential damage from smoke is a big deal and many times will not be detected until the grapes are in the fermenters and the smoky aroma begins to reveal itself. In short, stay tuned for the Oregon results.
Washington and Idaho are in good shape! Much like California the crop is of average to slightly above average size with very good quality. Also like California most of the appellations in Washington and Idaho are seeing a heat wave this week. Ideally winemakers would like to see the temperatures dip a bit as September and the harvest begin allowing the chemistry of the grapes to come into the ideal balance between the all important sugar and acid levels. For growers and winemakers in all of these areas of the west the decision comes down to pushing harvest up and getting the grapes in before the heat or slowing everything down until the heat passes and hang time and cooler temps bring all back to the proper levels.
We have seen over the years far worse conditions than what we are experiencing right now, so we trust our grower and wine producing friends will make the right call and deliver a very good to great set of 2017 wines. What they all are going through right now is certainly manageable, with the exception of Oregon and much of Europe. We will keep all of you updated as harvest progresses on the quality of the wines we expect, or feel free to stop in the shop to learn more.
If there is a topic you would like to read about or if you have questions on wine, you can email George@thedinnerpartyshop.com, or make suggestions by contacting the Healthy Community section at the Coeur d’Alene Press.
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George Balling is co-owner (with his wife Mary Lancaster) of the dinner party, a wine and table top décor shop located by Costco in Coeur d’Alene. George worked as a judge in many wine competitions, and his articles are published around the country. You can learn more about the dinner party at www.thedinnerpartyshop.com. Be sure and check out our weekly blog at www.thedinnerpartyshop.com/home/blog-2. You can get all of these articles as well as other great wine tips by friending us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.