Vintners in Santa Barbara County, which boasts the longest wine grape growing season in California, see the finish line, but are nowhere near the end of the 2011 harvest. While most of the white grape varietals and more delicate reds are off the vine and in the cellar, varietals such as Grenache and Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet, Nebbiolo and Lagrein continue to ripen on the vine, enjoying the warm, sunny days of “Indian Summer”. Contrary to reports of doom and gloom throughout California, Santa Barbara County vintners are expecting great quality from the vintage, although not without some stress and worry along the way. Riverbench Vineyard Manager Jim Stollberg notes: “The lighter yields across the Santa Maria Valley in both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir will provide wineries intense fruit character. The long hang time resulting from abnormally cool summertime weather was tough on growers but kept berry size very small. That low juice to skin ratio is what we strive for many years and have difficulty achieving.” Nicholas Miller of the famed Bien Nacido Vineyard, adds, “While years like this prove challenging, they are also very exciting to show how good farming and winemaking can shine through.”
2011 has not been without its challenges in Santa Barbara County. The April freeze quite severely impacted crop size in many areas, and cool summer temperatures delayed ripening and caused vineyard managers additional work with canopy management and mildew control. Cluster weights tend to be light, berry size petite and overall crop yields much smaller than average. Due diligence is key, as pointed out by Zaca Mesa winemaker Eric Mohseni: “It’s true we had obstacles during the growing season. Mother Nature reduced our yields, and coupled with the mild growing season, has given us long hang times. This is another vintage where winemaker’s patience will be tested. So far, I’m seeing lower sugars with flavors and higher acids. While the yields are coming in very low, some of the lowest we have seen on our ranch, the quality is tremendous.”
Bret Davenport, owner of Buttonwood Farm Winery concludes, “This year we were dealt a quantity blow, but received a quality reward. Our job is to maintain good, sustainable farming practices in the vineyard and an eye to detail in the cellar. Other than that, we can only work with what the vintage provides. In this case, consumers are the winners as quality will be incredibly high and I’m betting that prices will remain as they are today.” It’s true – good things often come in small packages.
About Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association
The Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association is a non-profit organization founded in 1983 to support and promote Santa Barbara County as a premium wine producing and wine grape growing region. The Vintners’ Association produces festivals, seminars and tastings and provides information to consumers and the wine and travel media.