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Source: Wine Institute of California news release

California sustainable winegrowing, along with cool temperatures and a long growing season in 2019, have resulted in a high quality winegrape crop. Robert Holmes photo.

San Francisco, CA - The 2019 winegrape harvest started one to two weeks later than usual in many California wine regions. February brought heavy rain to Temecula Valley and Sonoma County-particularly the Russian River Valley area-but because the vines were in their winter dormancy, it did not affect the 2019 crop. Spring continued to be wet with some rain during flowering, followed by cool temperatures that allowed the grapes to mature gradually.

Winegrapes across California ripened at lower sugars, thanks to the extended, cool growing season, and vintners are praising the full flavors, fresh acidity and superb balance of the 2019 fruit.

Wildfires in October did not impact this year's harvest as the vast majority of the winegrapes were already brought in.

The USDA's August Crop Report estimated the 2019 yield at 4.2 million tons, 2% less than the state crush total for 2018 and a bit higher than the historical average of 3.9 million tons. However, vintners in many California appellations are predicting light-to-normal size yields this year.

Sustainable Practices Reap Benefits at Harvest - and Beyond

California produces about 80% of the nation's wine, and if it were a country, it would be the world's fourth-largest wine producer. Eighty-five percent of California wine is made in a Certified Sustainable California Winery and 30% of the state's 637,000 vineyard acres are certified sustainable by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. Along with preserving the land for future generations, many of the sustainable practices used by the state's vintners help make the harvest and growing season run more smoothly and increase wine quality.

For the last four years, Spottswoode Winery in St. Helena, Napa Valley has used an optical fruit sorter to increase efficiency and quality at harvest time, while cutting back on water usage.

"The sorter allows us to bring in more fruit on any given day so we can minimize the negative effects of any untimely hot spells," said Beth Novak Milliken, president and CEO at Spottswoode. "On our sorting line, the machine cleans far more easily than our old equipment which has allowed us to save a significant amount of water each day that we crush."

The winery also measures sap flow in order to determine the precise water needs of the vines and prevent overwatering.

Turley Wine Cellars conserves water in its Amador County, Paso Robles and Napa Valley vineyards by dry farming and limiting yields. The winery also employs sustainable practices such as compost, cover crops, biological sprays, and encouraging natural predators to deal with vineyard pests.

"When you're working with grapes with limited yields, they have better pH and acids at harvest, so you have a more stable end product," said Tegan Passalacqua, Turley's director of winemaking. "There's also less need for irrigation with smaller yields. If you're overwatering and getting bunch rot or mildew in the clusters, you're going to be dealing with less perfectly clean fruit at harvest time."

Jackson Family Wines, which farms vineyards across California, uses wind machines for frost protection and reuses winery process water for irrigation. Maintaining soil health helps the winery reduce inputs while enhancing quality.

"We're focused on techniques such as spreading compost, enhancing biodiversity, planting cover crops, and evaluating how vibrant, healthy soils can help us address persistent issues, such as vine disease, invasive weed control or frequent fertilizer applications," said Katie Jackson, SVP corporate social responsibility for Jackson Family Wines, headquartered in Santa Rosa. "Healthier vines require fewer inputs, have greater longevity and result in higher quality grapes that produce higher quality wines."

For Aaron P. Lange, head of vineyard operations at LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards in Lodi, there is no single practice in the vineyard or winery that leads to better fruit at harvest.

"Being a sustainable grower is a constant pursuit of growing the highest quality winegrapes while trying to reduce the negative impacts of farming and increase the positive ones," he said. "It's a confluence of factors involving soil management, appropriate rootstock selection, some fancy monitoring tools, and good old-fashioned experienced eyes in the vineyard. I believe that skilled farmers, vintners and land stewards result in the best chances for an exceptional vintage."

John Terlato of Terlato Vineyards, whose family owns Sanford Winery in the Sta. Rita Hills appellation of Santa Barbara County, also believes that it takes a culmination of sustainable practices throughout the season to produce better fruit at harvest time.

"Many small actions and steps add up to a critical mass that makes a genuine difference," Terlato said. At Sanford those actions include water management and conservation, composting to improve soil health, integrated pest management, cover crops to prevent soil erosion, and installing raptor perches and owl boxes for rodent control.

The winery also dry farms its La Rinconada and Sanford & Benedict ranches, which significantly reduces water usage and helps produce higher-quality fruit. "Dry farming had a very positive impact this year on our winegrowing and the harvest and crush," Terlato said. "We saw the vine canopies reacting well, even through heat spikes, and it gave us great fruit concentration."

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