Harvest Begins Across California, Oregon on Track for September Start

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Harvest is off to an early start in many of the vineyards we manage on the West Coast.

Beyond the properties in Oregon and California’s Central Coast (more on them later), Atlas farms vineyards in California’s Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties. Our Director of Quality Control Technical Operations, Francisco Araujo, called the first pick Aug. 12, when the team harvested Pinot Noir for J Vineyards & Winery’s http://www.jwine.com sparkling wine. Since then, the AVM crew has picked 100 tons of grapes for sparkling wines and two small vineyard blocks for still wines.

The region’s varied microclimates mean the team starts harvesting Pinot and Chardonnay, like they’re doing now, and end the season harvesting the Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot.

Harvest is about 10 to 15 days ahead of what is typical—although any farmer will tell you there is no such thing as a “typical” growing year. Since Northern California has been enjoying good weather for growing grapes, Atlas has been able to time harvest to coincide with winemakers’ individual styles. Representatives in the field send maturity reports to wineries, letting them know how their grapes are doing in terms of sugar levels, acidity and pH.

Atlas farms 1,200 acres in Northern California, and over 80 clients receive maturity reports on a weekly basis. Winemakers use the information to estimate how close the fruit is to harvest-ready and make any special requests for leaf pulling and fruit cleaning.

Heading south

The Atlas team has a combined 60+ years of experience in vineyard management, and the company’s regional managers use daily check-in meetings as a way to share information and brainstorm. For Jim McGarry, who is responsible for farming 350 acres as Atlas’ Central Coast regional vineyard manager, harvest season started Aug. 20, when the Central Coast team picked Pinot Noir for sparkling wine from Rita’s Crown Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills AVA.

Just three days into harvest, the Central Coast team was harvesting Chardonnay for the still wine program at Sandhi Wines. The Santa Barbara County winery is known for its Burgundian style, which favors the low sugars and acidity that coincide with an early harvest.

The Santa Rita Hills region is known for being windy, but Jim says this year most of the high-wind days came early during bloom, and allowed for good berry set. May and June were filled with warm days that are good for grape maturity. “I wish every year was like this year,” Jim tells us.

Waiting for harvest

In Oregon, where Ken Kupperman serves as Atlas Vineyard Management’s director of operations and grape sales, there is a sweet spot to begin harvest that runs from the final week of September through the first two weeks of October. This year, he says, grape maturity is right on target to hit the sweet spot. He says farmers always get nervous when the season seems to be going too well, and 2013 has been “so good it’s a little scary”.

We farm 650 acres in the Willamette Valley—primarily in the Yamhill-Carlton and Eola-Amity Hills AVAs—where we are seeing small clusters in low numbers, so crop thinning will be touch up only as crop already looks gorgeous.

Rain at bloom caused some shatter and made the clusters a bit more open, a preference of winemakers in the area, which has gained international attention for its Pinot Noir.

When harvest does get started in Oregon, it is often a mad dash to the finish. Fall rainstorms in the region are not merely a possibility, but a foregone conclusion. It’s all a matter of timing. Of course, that is all part of the excitement.

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