HARVEST

Growers predict earlier grape harvest

2012-07-11T13:54:00Z 2012-07-13T20:43:13Z Growers predict earlier grape harvestSASHA PAULSEN Napa Valley Register
July 11, 2012 1:54 pm  • 

After the challenges of the last two growing seasons, farmers in the Napa Valley are experiencing something new in the summer of 2012 — a nearly average year.

“We’re really excited,” said Jon Ruel, director of viticulture and winemaking at Trefethen Vineyards and president of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers.

A steady parade of warm days and cool nights is adding up to “a nearly perfect season” so far, agreed Jim Verhey, a long-time grower in the valley, who recently left Silverado Wine Growers to launch his own consulting business, Verhey Advisors.

The cool summer temperatures of 2010 and 2011 led to exceptionally late harvests, with sparkling wine grapes, always the first to be harvested, starting in early September.

 “Last year if you had asked me if I wanted one thing in 2012, it would have been an earlier harvest,” Ruel said. “It looks like we’ll be starting about three weeks earlier this year than last year,” he said.

The sparkling wine grape harvest may start in mid-August, which is a more average start date. “This is great for us,” he said.

“What’s driving it is the warmer weather,” Ruel said, noting that “through June we’ve had the warmest start since 2006. This past June we had 22 days where the temperature was 80 degrees plus,” he said. “Last year we had 13 days.”

“We’ve all got used to it feeling like summer,” he said. “It feels really nice.”

The warm days have allowed the grapes to “acclimatize” gradually, Ruel said, so that temperature increases, like those of this week, should not be a problem for the grapes. “I’m more concerned for the workers,” Ruel said. “But we take extra steps, making sure the workers have breaks, shade and water. If it gets too hot, we just stop working.”

Another plus to the growing season, Ruel said, are cool nights. “Lows in June were in the upper 40s,” he said. “The cool evenings are one of the things that makes Napa special.” Allowing the grapes to cool down at night, he explained, retains freshness and acidity. “On warm nights the grapes keep metabolizing and advancing ripening, but lose acidity, he said. “It’s been nice to see the reliable pattern.”

Verhey said the chief challenge so far this year was securing enough laborers to deal with spring’s exceptionally robust vine growth, which required more leafing and trimming. “We’ve over the worst,” he said.   

He believes that “planning and anticipation” of an earlier harvest is the key to making sure there will be enough workers to bring in the 2012 crop.

There is a wide-spread labor shortage that could affect the Napa Valley, said Jennifer Putnam, executive director of Napa Valley Grapegrowers. There are fewer people attempting to cross the border from Mexico to work in the U.S. and also second- and third-generation children of farm workers are not opting to follow their parents’ paths.

The potential shortage was emphasized by the “crazy growing year,” Putnam said.  

“We don’t have the supply we once had,” she said, adding that growers are taking extra steps to make sure they will have harvest help. This includes building “an infrastructure of support” to encourage workers to choose to work in the Napa Valley — better wages, more training and support services are key, she said.

For the first time this year, she said, the Grapegrowers are working with St. John’s Catholic Church and Puertas Abiertas to sponsor a “Dia de la Familia” on  July 22. The event in downtown Napa will bring together more than 40 community organizations “to highlight the extraordinary services and programs they provide for Napa’s farmworkers and their families.”

Cost of living in Napa and the added transportation costs to reach the Napa Valley are factors in competing for workers, Verhey said. “Eight dollars an hour in the Central Valley equals $10 an hour in Napa,” he said.

Potentially it could lead to different ways of farming, Verhey said, including rethinking vineyard management that emphasizes the ways vineyards look. “We have to stop treating vineyards as landscaping,” he said.

“If I were in charge of the harvest valley-wide,” he said, “I’d set up my office like a war room,” moving troops around the vineyards as needed.

Ruel said that properties like Trefethen, which have teams of workers year-round, will tend to be less affected by a labor shortage going into harvest. “There are a lot of business models in the valley,” he said, “but we’ve got the same people and keep them year round.

“Vineyard management companies may feel the crunch more, if there is a lot of work to be done at one time. It may put the squeeze on companies who have to be everywhere at once.”

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(10) Comments

  1. REPUBLICANKID
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    REPUBLICANKID - July 11, 2012 3:29 pm
    Looks like the weather is back to normal.
  2. Winepine
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    Winepine - July 11, 2012 4:15 pm
    Excellent! Looks like we'll be drinking wine a little earlier this year :O)
  3. contrarian
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    contrarian - July 11, 2012 6:16 pm
    Bowler,

    As a Green Card holder I can tell you from firsthand experience the immigration system is sensible.

    There is a framework where people can apply with listed criteria and paperwork required.

    What we do NOT have (or didn't before we stopped enforcing the laws) was a system that rewarded breaking that law.

    Follow the law and apply legally, it is neither quick nor cheap, but it does ensure that immigrants receive a complete criminal and medical check before being allowed into the country.

    By rewarding illegal behavior (like Obama did recently, and Reagan before that) we only encourage more illegal behavior, and have fewer controls over who gets to live here.

    The US is required to ensure it screens all immigrants for the safety of it's own citizenry, and is under NO obligation to accept anyone as an immigrant.

    Remember there are literally hundreds of millions of good decent folks who would love to live here, should we choose immigrants fairly or allow line jumpers to stay?
  4. jimmie
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    jimmie - July 11, 2012 8:11 pm
    I'm not a fan of "great vintage" declarations this early since there are 60-90 days to go for most of the fruit... but it has been refreshingly nice this spring and summer SO FAR. Let's not jinx it. But sorry, RK. You haven't checked your national weather news lately. Count your blessings.
  5. NapaDriver
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    NapaDriver - July 11, 2012 10:00 pm
    I've yet to hear and explain what a normal year is when it comes to the harvest times, it seems no matter what, whether it's early or late, it always turns out to be exceptional. I remember back in the day when great wines were defined by vintage years, but the definition of a great year is defined by the amount of the harvest or quality of fruit. But back to the point, when was the last normal year for harvest and how can you tell ?
  6. krusty
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    krusty - July 11, 2012 10:36 pm
    NapaDriver, I couldn't tell you what a "normal" harvest would be, but I can tell you that no vintner would ever claim on record that a vintage was unexceptional. It would pretty much guarantee that wine from that vintage would be difficult to sell. It would be like Toyota telling you their 2012 vehicles were poorly built.
  7. david brown
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    david brown - July 12, 2012 11:28 am
    Must be 'Global Warming' to blame, er... uh ...I mean 'Cooling'. I got it, lets call it 'Climate Change'. Wait....isn't that what we call weather?
  8. leavintown
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    leavintown - July 12, 2012 5:14 pm
    Basically all harvest means to me is less parking in my neighborhood. What's funny is I could pick out which cars are "seasonal cars" or "Harvest cars" in my neighborhood.
  9. Indepentone
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    Indepentone - July 12, 2012 10:24 pm
    Ok all of you folks who are complaining about being out of work. Here is a need that needs your hard work ethics.

    Time to go drop off those applications!
  10. Cadence
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    Cadence - July 13, 2012 11:23 am
    Less parking in the neighborhood and seasonal encampments in city parks - is this why the pine branch quonset huts and sleeping bags made an earlier appearance in little Klamath Park?
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