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Sonoma's 'Excellent' Harvest Brings Economic Relief

Wineries are requesting more fruit from growers than last year, due to an end to the recession stockpile of wine.

In restaurants in the future, connoisseurs may very well say of Sonoma County's 2012 wine—"Ah, that was a very good year."

"The quality is fabulous," Becky Jenkins of Madrone Vineyard Management told Patch last week. "Mother Nature has looked favorably on us. We haven't had a normal season in three years," she said.

Cool summers with heat spikes and rain—even rain during harvest—made for less than desirable conditions in the past three years, she said.

But this year's yield is "excellent" according to Jenkins and Nick Frey, president of Sonoma County Wine Grape Commission. They say it could bring Sonoma's wine industry back from the effects of the recession and 9-11.

"After 9-11, people were buying less luxury," Jenkins said. "Some growers have gone into bankruptcy and foreclosure. Now, people are coming to us to ask for the grapes, rather than the other way around. If we’d had more grapes, we could have sold them. No one is going to have extra grapes this year."

Jenkins is the former president of Sonoma County Wine Grape Growers Association and is currently on the Board of Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Association.

The local harvest began after Labor Day and is expected to last to about Nov. 1.

"It might go longer in cooler areas," Frey said.

He said some wineries have renewed contracts this year, compared to wineries cutting back in recent years.

"We were asked to drop some of the fruit sometimes," Jenkins told Patch of the not-so-good years.

When that happens, grapes are literally allowed to fall on the vineyard floor without being sold, she said.

There are about 1,800 vineyards owned by about 1,500 growers in Sonoma county, Frey said. The average annual yield from the county is 200,000 tons of wine grapes.

"We'll top that this year but there's no estimate yet. Last year's was 166,000 tons," he said.

This year's white-wine grape harvest is now complete. The red grape picking is still under way. The quality of fruit has been high and the quantity above average in all grape varieties, but pinot noir has done especially well, Frey said.

Growers and winemakers have had a happy problem—searching for tank space and barrels for the massive yield. The harvest has gone so well that Sonoma county vineyards are getting requests for their fruit from as far away as Paso Robles, as well as Solano and Napa counties, Jenkins said. Since the harvest has been good throughout California, winemakers weren't able to find extra tank space outside the county to use either.

"Both growers and wineries are excited," he said. "The growers are getting new contracts."

A lot of labor such as leaf removal and pruning is done year-round, then harvest can be an intense time, when people bring in friends to help, Frey said.

"People work seven days a week, starting at midnight or 2 a.m. and working eight to 10 hour days," he said.

Patch asked Frey about expectations for next year.

"There were good conditions when the clusters differentiated in spring," he  said, "and that forms the crop for 2013. We're optimistic for next year."

Sonoma County Wine Grape Commission represents growers who are contracted to wineries. Two thirds of the grapes crushed in the county are grown under contract, Frey said.

The Jenkins family has been in vineyard management for 25 years. On the attached video, Becky Jenkins' son and chief of operations, Isaac, tells readers how he knows when the fruit is ripe for picking and what makes Sonoma wine so special. Patch caught up with him at Horn Vineyard, where grapes were being harvested for Benziger Winery. The work began before dawn.

San Vicente Golf Resort October 25, 2012 at 10:33 PM
Great article. I appreciate a glass of wine even more after reading this. Janice Baldridge, San Vicente Resort, Ramona, California

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