Alvar Cervantes dumps a bucket of Pinot Noir grapes into a bin
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Dry farming may be proving fruitful for several Santa Clara area winemakers, who said this year’s harvest may come earlier than in years past with the lack of rainfall stacking up to high-quality fruit and less supply.
Valley vintners are prepping for what several local and statewide vineyard managers and winemakers equate to an early harvest in general with drought yielding high-quality grapes and average to slightly below average tonnage.
“From our perspective, it’s essentially a perfect year,” Sarah’s Vineyard winemaker Tim Slater said.
Among those to harvest early is Dana Merrill, president of Templeton-based Mesa Vineyard Management.
“I would say we very well could be three weeks early,” Merrill said, “among the earlier years we’ve had.”
Slater said he can talk all day about weather. Just a sampling: Slater said moderate seasonal temperatures and not too many 100-plus degree days coupled with windy conditions in 2014 means this year’s harvest is looking to be a good crop—not as heavy as the last two years—with fruit aplenty.
Fortino Winery winemaker and owner Gino Fortino said that on the winery’s roughly 40 dry-farmed acres planted in 1934 with varietals like carignan and later charbono, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay and zinfandel, “harvest is looking good” in 2014.
“The growing season was nice: warm and mellow throughout the season,” Fortino said.
Fortino also said he believes it’s going to be an early season for his vineyard this year with grapes turning at a good pace and harvest expected to start soon.
Quality looks good, Fortino said, and he expects more of an average year in terms of yields.
In other areas across the state, harvest has begun with low-sugar varietals arriving early like champagne, pinot grigio, white zinfandel, grenache and chardonnay, according to Nat DiBuduo, president of Fresno-based Allied Grape Growers.
Merrill said he picked a few grapes in Monterey County, Paso Robles and Edna Valley. He’s quick to point out that lower-than-average projected yields for his operations like this means, “you’re not going to have excess grapes on the market,” so supply and demand will work itself out.
“Quality looks good, but I think yields will be down,” Merrill said.
Low yields are not a bad thing, however.
They’re something vintners like Santa Clara Valley-based Sunlit Oaks Winery’s Josh Grogran said will likely equate to wines pleasing to the palate.
“We’re hoping that the reduced water will create concentrated flavors and that we’ll have great, full-bodied wines,” Grogan said.
Slater and others echoed a similar sentiment.
“Fruit quality should be excellent,” Slater said.
Guglielmo Winery’s marketing director and President of the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley association Greg Richtarek said yield is looking good in terms of overall quality of the clusters and evenness of ripening.
“The fruit looks pretty darn good,” Richtarek said. “Drought is a relative thing. Most of us dry farm, so the vines are deep and can seek the water table and moisture they need.”
It’s a sentiment that DuBuduo echoed.
“Because of the water stress and deficit, the harvest has been good,” DiBuduo said.
Across the state, DiBuduo said crop yields are lower than the group estimated. Last year, total harvest was more than 4 million tons; this year it’s estimated at 3.8 million tons, according to Allied Grape Growers estimates.
“I think a lot of that is because of the dry year,” DiBuduo said. “The bunches have been smaller. The berries have been smaller, which lends itself to a good quality.
“People on the north coast try for smaller berries and bunches, and I think mother nature is going to give it throughout the state this year,” he said.

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