Late again! That's the harvest picture for the last winegrape harvest of this century. Vineyard managers and growers from all corners of Santa Barbara County are telling me the 1999 harvest, like the 1998 harvest, will be a month to five weeks late this year.
Sherrill Duggan, tasting room manager at Buttonwood Farm, told me she expects their harvest might be five to six weeks late, in contrast to the other extreme-1997-when their sauvignon blanc fruit was actually harvested before Labor Day.
This growing season has been unseasonably cool, and it could well be a sensational vintage because of the long "hang time"-the length of time the grapes have hung on the vine.
The cool conditions will most likely also mean smaller berries and lighter crop levels, factors that bode well for great wine!
Daytime high temperatures in the Los Alamos Valley have been hovering in the 70s and low 80s with low temperatures hitting the mid 40s. The cool nights and relatively cool daytime highs we've experienced this summer in Santa Ynez, Los Alamos and Santa Maria are ideal temperatures for premium winegrapes because the natural grape acidity stays high. Hot temperatures, while causing ripening, cause acidity levels to drop. I am of the opinion, and I know many growers would agree with me, that you get sturdier, higher quality wines from grapes with high natural acidity-grapes that don't have to be acidulated during the winemaking process, for it's the acidity in the wine that makes the wine interesting. Wines lacking sufficient acidity are called "flabby" and dull and are not particularly interesting in the mouth.
The "fly in the ointment" at this time of year is rain. When harvest is late, you end up tempting fate with Mother Nature-the later into the year harvest occurs, the greater the probability of rain, and rain is the real enemy of the vintner right around harvest. Rain wreaks havoc with plant pH, and sugar-acid balences around harvest. And wet conditions can encourage the development of rot and mold like it can with strawberries.
When I read in the news about the poor wheat farmers of Kansas who have lost a year's crop because of drought, or rain, it makes me want to burst out in tears. Winegrapes like wheat, corn or broccoli are all plants, agricultural products and each has its own vulnerabilities to Mother Nature and pestilence.
Kudos to the Vintners' Association! Two full-color poster size maps of all the vineyards and winemaking facilities of Santa Barbara County have been published by the Vintners' Association. The maps feature the county's two Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) approved vitacultural areas (AVAs)-the Santa Maria Valley and the Santa Ynez Valley as well as the vineyards of the Los Alamos Valley. Each map is 36 inches wide and 24 inches high.
Together the maps depict 134 vineyards totalling more than 18,000 acres in Santa Barbara County.
These gorgeous maps retail for $10 each. Order from the Vintners' Association by calling (805) 688-0881, or write to SBCVA, P O Box 1558, Santa Ynez CA 93460.
1999 Harvest Festival-about a month a way! Tickets are still available for "A Celebration of Harvest" set for Saturday, October 9, 1-4 p.m. at Rancho Sisquoc Winery, 6600 Foxen Canyon Road, east of Santa Maria. You'll be able to enjoy the wines from 46 wineries plus sample foods of the season.
Tickets are $60 per person. No gate sales; tickets must be purchased in advance.
A number of winemaker dinners and special events are usually scheduled in conjunction with the Harvest Festival. Contact the Vintners' Association for a listing of the dinners and special winery events. (805) 688-0881.
Winetasting Basics! Rina Perri will offer a four week wine appreciation seminar on Tuesday evenings from October 5 through October 26 at the Los Olivos Wine & Spirits Emporium. Cost is $75. Must be 21 to attend. For reservations call (805) 688-4409.
Bob Senn writes The Independent's monthly wine column, "Grapevine," lives in the Los Alamos Valley and owns the Los Olivos Wine & Spirits Emporium.
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