Now that we're finally getting some warm, sunny days, hope has returned. Or at least it seems so when you talk to a grape farmer like my father, Bill Charles.
Because of the wet, cold spring, the vines are behind. How far behind? Well, as much as a month according to many farmers here, but this summer will be the true determinant for how late we pick in 2011. With an even, warm summer the vines can catch up. With a cool summer, we end up with another 2010 -- just fine for most of us with early ripening Pinot, but not so good with late-ripening varieties like Cab or Zin.
Today the Associated Press ran a comprehensive article about the challenges of 2011 and growers' outlooks on the vintage. Click here to read it.
One thing that a grape grower in the AP article mentions is leaf pulling. Farmers often do this to expose the fruit to more sunlight and to open up the canopy for more airflow. This helps the grapes ripen faster, and helps reduce mold pressure. Unfortunately, this is what many growers (including ourselves) did last summer to help speed up ripening and we got burned. Literally. Several days above 100 degrees arrived in late summer and sunburned the grapes. Luckily, we only had a few blocks with about 5% sunburn. There were vineyards in more southern climes that were almost decimated.
We cut off the sunburnt grapes and moved on with our lives last year, bringing in our fruit before any fall rains. Likely we'll be a little more cautious this year when it comes to leaf pulling!
One thing we always know is that every year is different, and it's truly too early to call whether or not the 2011 vintage will go down as good, bad, or excellent. We'll just have to wait and see, which is one of things farmers are the worst at doing.