Serious Drinking: The 2012 California Wine Harvest

Pinot ready for harvest, Mendocino County
Pinot ready for harvest, Mendocino County
Patrick Comiskey

The 2012 harvest looks like a return to normal for California growers statewide. After a pair of unusually cool seasons in 2010 and 2011, vintages which resulted in lower than average yields and lower than average ripeness levels, 2012 looks relatively trouble free, with good-sized yields and excellent fruit quality.

After a relatively dry winter, bud break in most of California's wine regions was earlier than normal, but fruit set -- the number and size of clusters -- was quite good. The summer progressed with mildly warm, even temperatures -- nothing like the fogbound early days of 2010 and 2011which slowed development well into early autumn.

The higher average temperatures afforded a higher crop than those cool years, which progressed without a hitch until late August, when harvest commenced on white grapes from Napa to San Luis Obispo. But cooler than normal temperatures in early September left most producers watching and waiting, like in the Dry Creek Valley. (See last week's column, Hope for Zinfandel: 1999 Ridge Vineyards Lytton Spring).

The bouts of hot weather we've endured here in late September and this past week have been welcome and not unexpected in the state's wine regions. Two years ago a heat spike like these might have resulted in some sunburned fruit; this year, however, the crop has escaped this fate.

Meanwhile in the Napa Valley that extra heat is pushing Cabernet Sauvignon to a peak level of ripeness. And in the Russian River Valley, about three quarters of the Pinot Noir crop is in-house; harvest there is expected to wrap in two weeks. According to grower Bill Wycoff, conditions have been unusually ideal: "I don't recall ever seeing such a convergence of high quality and yields," he says.


Patrick Comiskey, our drinks columnist, blogs at patrickcomiskey.com and tweets at @patcisco. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.

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