The 2020 North Coast wine grape harvest is underway throughout the region, with sparkling wine varieties leading the way to the presses. 2020’s growing season bodes well for a landmark harvest. Following weeks of steady daytime heat and cool evenings, grapes are ripening evenly, with harvest starting about 10 days earlier than it did in 2019, a relatively cooler, wetter year.
In Sonoma County, the earliest grapes harvested were picked on Monday night, August 3rd in Dry Creek Valley. Dutcher Crossing Winery’s team picked 4.4 tons of Chardonnay to be used in their estate sparkling wine, a tradition started in 2016. “The team was super excited to get the 2020 vintage started, and what better way to celebrate the harvest season than with Chardonnay for our sparkling wine,” said Nick Briggs, Dutcher Crossing’s Winemaker. “While we were earlier this year by over a week due to light crop load yields, the quality is exceptional!”
Lower crop yields this season are a theme echoed by winegrowers around Sonoma County. While there were some reports of “shatter” associated with April frost, the main cause for lower yields is related to the cyclical nature of the vines, which have experienced several above-average vintages, including the largest on record in 2018. Many growers call this phenomenon of lower grape yields following several larger vintages “right-sizing.”
Among other reports of grape harvesting in Sonoma County, MacMurray Ranch in Russian River Valley, picked 20 tons of Pinot Noir for the J Vineyards brand on August 5th. Sasaki Vineyards in Schellville, one of the earliest to pick last year, brought in around 20 tons of Pinot Noir for the Gloria Ferrer sparkling wines early morning, August 6th. The Sasakis have been growing Pinot Noir for Gloria Ferrer for 19 years.
In Sonoma Valley, vintners, growers and members of the community have gathered in recent years at the Mission San Francisco Solano on the Sonoma Plaza to officially ring the harvest bell to signal the beginning of the harvest season in Sonoma Valley. This year, in observance of social distancing, Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Association has asked winegrowers, winery staff and locals to celebrate the beginning of harvest by creating their own “harvest bells” videos and post them to social media using the hashtag #SonomaValleyHarvest.
“Harvest is the most exciting time of year for the thousands here in Sonoma County who are connected to wine and ag. After months of care and anticipation, the wait is over and the action is picking up in vineyards and wineries,” said Karissa Kruse, president of Sonoma County Winegrowers. She added, “Reports from winegrowers indicate a well-balanced and quality crop, with even ripening through veraison. As always we are looking forward to getting our fruit off the vine, and enjoying the 2020 vintage.”
The 2020 Napa Valley growing season kicked off with mild spring weather, and in June, the conditions were perfect for uniform fruit set. From June to early August, temperatures were steady and warm, little to no heat spikes, creating ideal conditions for the final stretch. Veraison has continued over an extended period, allowing for balanced fruit development. Weather permitting, growers plan for a steady harvest going into October when thicker-skin grapes like cabernet sauvignon will be picked.
“Amidst the chaos of the pandemic, the grapes continue to ripen, and grape growers feel the continuity of harvest. It has been a superb growing season with moderate weather; Napa Valley is fortunate, we continue to have beautiful fruit, ready for harvest, time and time again,” said Kendall Hoxsey-Onysko, Business Manager for Yount Mill Vineyards and Napa Wine Company, whose first pick is this coming Saturday, August 8, from her Block House Vineyard in Yountville, “COVID-19 protection is top-of-mind though, and we are committed to enforcing best practice protocols to ensure all employees in the vineyard and winery are safe while harvest is underway.”
“We’re gearing up to pick white fruit varieties in the next three weeks, with viognier and sauvignon blanc coming in first. Until then, we’re diligently learning best practices for COVID-19 prevention, and readying for a safe harvest in the workplace, all while keeping a close eye on the grapes still on the vine,” noted Courtney Shifflett, NVG member and viticulturist for Duckhorn Wine Company.
At the start of harvest, many in the Napa Valley grape growing community gather at various vineyards for the blessing of the grapes, a longstanding tradition dating back to agrarian times, that gives thanks for the bountiful crop. Although ceremonies will look much smaller this year, the Napa Valley community has much to be thankful for with the 2020 harvest, as it reflects the perseverance of Mother Nature through chaotic times.