Heat wave scorches some Bay Area vineyards

August 26, 2010 8:35:41 PM PDT
The weird weather this summer is causing problems in wine country. The sudden and extreme heat is taking a toll on vineyards. It is bad news for growers who are ready to assess the damage and tally the losses, but there could be a benefit for wine drinkers.

Mother Nature dealt a cruel hand this summer. With months of cold and dampness, leaves were cut away to expose the grapes to more light and help them ripen. Then came the extreme heat; growers and the grapes were helpless.

George Martinelli is a fourth generation grower. He might have lost between 5 and 20 percent of his grapes to the heat and for other growers it could be more. The biggest losses will be from the chardonnay grape, because of its thin skin.

"You could apply water to them but no, once they're exposed to sun there's nothing you can do," Martinelli said.

On damaged bunches, the surviving grapes will ripen faster, and this year's chardonnay harvest could begin earlier rather than later in September.

Martinelli says the extent of damage depends on the type of trellis system, the grape and whether the rows run east-west, where they would feel the full impact of the sun...

Many winemakers have a surplus because the economy has slowed sales, so Martinelli thinks the crop loss will not affect prices, but there could be a silver lining for the palate.

"Flavor-wise it might be more of an acid year so there might be more structure to the wine," Martinelli said. "So there are some winemakers that I've talked to that are pretty excited about this year."

The Sonoma County Wine Grape Commission said it would normally expect a harvest of around 195,000 tons of grapes this year, but what that harvest actually turns out to be remains to be seen.


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