It is a bit hard to believe, but we are fast approaching harvest of the 2018 wine grape crop for appellations in the Northern Hemisphere. In just a matter of weeks we will be in the heart of harvest, so it seems like a good time to update news on this year’s crop from around the world. This is the time that is perhaps the most frightening for wine grape growers and winemakers alike. Regardless of what has transpired so far this year, this is when it all gets very serious — when the quality of the grape crop will be determined and decisions become vitally important. From sunburn, to mold and rot. From rain, to fall frosts and smoke. All that mother nature can serve up that could jeopardize the crop is now the focus of everyone in the wine industry.
In California, veraison is complete. This is when the grapes turn from green to purple for red varieties. In Washington, about 80 percent of the crop has turned, and in Oregon it is just beginning, which for some parts of the state may be good news. More about that later.
Here in the “states” all reports are positive, not only on the quality of the grapes but on the size of the crop. We have spoken with grape growers and winemakers from the appellations of Washington and all over California, and universally they have said yields will come in at about 10 percent over last year. In Walla Walla, Justin Basel has indicated the crop is so large that they will likely begin dropping fruit fairly aggressively to manage the size of the harvest. In California though, we have heard that most are going to go with the increased crop size after a smallish 2017 harvest and the grapes lost last year to the devastating wildfires in Napa and Sonoma.
The growing season in the West appears to be a week to two behind last year. This puts the harvest at the historically normal time of late summer and early fall. So, while the media has been breathless regarding the heat in parts of California and the Northwest, in areas known for producing wine grapes it has been an average year as far as temperature. Rain has been non-existent, which puts a smile on the face of almost every wine grape farmer.
With veraison and the crop on schedule, no one has begun cutting back the canopy. Nor have they introduced any irrigation. Throughout wine country, the winter rains last year were sufficient to provide the vines with all the water they needed to produce a healthy and sizable crop.
The big risk to this year’s vintage is in Oregon, where smoke taint is again a risk in wine growing valleys throughout the state. The mitigating factor is that veraison has just begun in Oregon, especially to the south where the smoke is the worst. Until the grapes are through veraison, the skins of the grapes are non porous and won’t allow the smoke to take hold. If fires can be brought under control, or if coastal breezes are substantial enough to clean out the smoke, things may end up being fine. Only time will tell for Oregon.
Throughout Europe, it will be another year where quality is determined area by area. As reported in the press last week, many areas of Italy are experiencing a bountiful and high-quality growing year. In parts of France though, spring storms inflicted significant damage from hail, causing shatter on grape bunches that made it through the storms, and in other cases the entire crop was wiped out by the storms. Burgundy and Champagne were particularly hard hit.
Spain, like much of Italy, is having a very good year with some small pockets of challenging conditions. As is so often the case, Europe will likely be an appellation by appellation quality assessment, unlike the universally great “old world” vintages of 2010, 2011 and 2015. As the European wines from 2018 start to be released in the coming years, the guidance of your favorite wine professional will be of paramount importance.
Much can happen between now and when winemakers and grape growers can exclaim, “they’re off!” We will continue to report all the ups and downs and swings in conditions that make this a nerve-racking time of year in the world of wine.
If there is a topic you would like to read about or questions on wine you can email George@thedinnerpartyshop.com or make suggestions by contacting the Healthy Community section at the Coeur d’Alene Press.
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George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party, a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The dinner party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018. George is also published in several other publications around the country. After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop. You can also follow us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.