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Harvest hums along

Harvest hums along

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This year’s grape harvest is a textbook example of a perfect year. The relatively cool year has created optimum conditions for grape growing, and the small heat spike a week ago didn’t have any significant impact according to growers I asked.

Sugars are moderate, though flavors are developing nicely, so the wines should be elegant and a little restrained, something to look forward to.

Most wineries are just starting to bring in their reds, and the crop looks a bit bigger than first anticipated, perhaps because growers left a few extra buds on the vines just in case. With research at UC Davis indicating that extreme thinning reduces, not improves, quality, this may be an interesting test.

The predicted showers didn’t materialize and weather looks clear for the predictable future.

It’s a great year for the growers; they deserve it after the last few harvests.

Rabobank says excess wine supplies tighten

Rabobank’s food and agribusiness research and advisory group is the latest observer to note that the oversupply in the global wine market may be over.

Citing large worldwide harvests from 2004 to 2006 coupled with the economic recession of 2008 as the cause for excess inventories in recent years, the large agricultural bank estimates that inventories are at their lowest in a decade.

They attribute tightening of supply to growing consumption in the U.S. and China, along with declining production across the world.

“Oversupply has become such a standard in the market that we had begun to just accept it,” said Stephen Rannekleiv, executive director of the group and co-author of the report. “But now with these lower inventories and stronger pricing for grape and bulk wine pricing, the industry could be headed toward more of a balance.”

For California, the report is expecting harvest to be much bigger than last year, citing estimates of a 10 percent increase.

Even with more inventory, growers do not appear concerned about declines in pricing due to rising demand.

The increase in overall U.S. production will be more than offset by the declines in major European producing countries, which have all experienced below-average harvests in recent years and expect the same this year.

A visit to the Castle

A visit to il Castello di Amorosa always brings out the 13-year-old boy in me, so it’s easy to forget that the castle hides a state-of the-art winery that makes excellent wines. This week, the castle invited the media there to remind us of that.

Part of the impetus was to highlight the Castle’s relatively new (since March) winemaking consultant, famed winemaker Sebastiano Rosa of Tenuta San Guido, maker of Sassacaia in Tuscany’s Bolgheri.

He also makes wine at Agricola Punica in Sardinia, an up-and-coming region.

We tasted the 2003 Sassacaia Bordeaux blend, one of the world’s most famed wines, but also Castle wines, which are excellent.

Of course, we here in the valley mostly tend to notice the castle, so it’s easy to forget that it’s a working winery.

Whether sweet wines popular with some tourists or wines that get high scores from critics, they’re all well crafted by winemaker Brooks Painter.

Painter seems to gets as much joy from converting people who thought they didn’t like wine as he does scoring with critics; it took a while to get most critics to rate the wines since they’re only sold direct.

Painter gets to play with some fun toys: His latest gewürztraminer and pinot blanc were fermented in concrete “eggs,” and the dry version we tasted was exemplary. He also makes an off-dry and hate harvest versions.

Painter also showed off his new Pellenc destemmer, which ironically was developed from those the French company uses on its mechanical grape harvesters.

The machine gently removes the stems, but also rejects small “jacks” and shot (undeveloped) berries, eliminating the need for a sorting table.

I asked why not just use the whole mechanical harvester, and he replied without much conviction that the grapes could oxidize on the trip to the winery.

Later, he allowed that mechanical harvesting may be coming, partly due to tightening labor supplies but also because of improved mechanical harvesting technology.

Castle owner Dario Sattui and President Georg Salzner also proudly showed off the new “Fattoria” where they offer tastes and sell the castle’s olive oil, as well as that from Sattui’s property in Italy, and the cold-pressed varietal grapeseed oil processed by Napa’s Food & Wine.

It sells eight varieties of the healthy oil — the differences between merlot and syrah are subtle, I’ll admit — as well as the highly anti-oxidant grapeseed meal flour for baking and cosmetics made from the oils and meal.

Interestingly, Lydia Mondavi also uses grape products in the high-end cosmetics at her 29 Cosmetics company, which just moved its headquarters here.

A trip to the castle is always fun and educational – even if you’re not 13.

Email Paul Franson at

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