Sugar Rush

Inside the Sticky Circumstances of Harvest 2010

A shot of harvest 2010 from Happy Canyon Vineyard.
Courtesy Photo

Santa Barbara County’s wine grape harvest is well underway and this year’s uncharacteristic weather — a long, cool summer, punctuated by infernal mid-September heat and autumn rains — has created unique challenges for the region’s winemakers.

“It’s been a wacky year,” said Qupé owner and winemaker Bob Lindquist.”It was the longest, coolest summer we’ve ever had, one of the most brutal harvest-time heat waves I can remember, and then rain!” These three climatic phases — especially the ones that came during harvest — will greatly influence the flavor profiles of 2010 wines.

A shot of harvest 2010 from Happy Canyon Vineyard.
Courtesy Photo

Mild summer temperatures caused slow fruit ripening, steady flavor development, and low sugars, resulting in wines with acidity and balanced alcohol. September’s burst of heat increased fruit sugar levels quickly and dramatically. Grapes harvested during this period will translate into higher alcohol wines with more jammy characteristics.

With regard to the effects of these weather fluctuations Rick Longoria, owner and winemaker of Longoria Wines, said that consumers can expect to see “some outstanding lower alcohol wines made this year with bright acidity, as well as some affected by the heat wave that can be considered over-ripe.”

Recent rainstorms and wetness have re-hydrated grapes still on the vine, reducing fruit sugars once again. Longoria and Lindquist report that they are waiting for these sugar levels to rise before harvesting cab franc, tempranillo, and cool climate syrah. “I still have about 70 percent of my Bien Nacido syrah and about 40 percent of our Sawyer Lindquist syrah left to pick,” said Lindquist. “We just need three or four warm days and everything will be ready.”

Winemakers are overall very pleased with the higher-than-usual quality of fruit. They describe this year’s pinot noir as ultra-inky, and report that, thus far, 2010 should be a vintage characterized by vivid acidity and noteworthy complexity.

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