Holman Ranch Winemaker Predicts A Good Year For Wines
El Nino has been great for the ski resorts – Mammoth has had more than 250 inches of snow as of early March – but what affect is it having on California’s wine country, wine production and wine quality?
Greg Vita, winemaker at Holman Ranch winery in Carmel Valley, said that if certain conditions occur, this could be a solid – tho not banner – year for California wines.
“Right now, I can see us having a very good year as long as we don’t get a frost and a lot of late rain,” he said in an exclusive interview with PubClub.com. “It’s looking like we will have an early harvest, and I think the quality of the wines could be quite good.”
Rain & A Warm February’s Effect
El Nino has dropped higher amounts of rain than usual in Carmel Valley and neighboring Salinas Valley but, as is the case in Napa and Sonoma, produced an unusually warm and dry February.
That’s fine, Vita said, as long as long as it’s not followed by a cold snap or storm that would frost the vines. Frost is an enemy because it can shatter the cluster of grapes or cause them not to form in the first place.
“We’re sitting pretty well with late-harvest varieties – Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec,” Vita said. “Those usually push out about three weeks after Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Pinot and Chardonnay are starting to push out now.
“Usually this doesn’t take place until early April.”
Because of this early “push out,” California vinters are sitting on the edges of their seats hoping a cold storm doesn’t blow through in March or April, which could lead to frost. That would not only affect the quality of the wines but also severely hamper production.
“We’re sitting now in a very precarious position,” Vita said. “If we get a cold storm at the end of March or the first of April that involves frost, it could cause extensive crop damage.”
Many California vineyards are coming off a loss of up to 60% of their crop in 2015 due to last year’s weather conditions, so the wineries are hoping for much better production this year.
So far, they are optimistic but also cautious this El Nino period.
“If we get through March and April okay, and we get nice fruit and an early harvest, then the wines and production will be good,” he explained. “Usually 2-3 weeks early is what we call an early harvest. Here at Holman Ranch we normally start the harvest the first of September.”
He added, “if we go back to 1998 when we had the last El Nino event, the Carmel and Salinas valleys had 40-45 inches of rain. This year we’re only looking at 20-22 inches.
“We did have some problems in ‘98 with too much rain because the vines just wanted to make leaves and not ripen the fruit, so that was a very late year as far as the harvest goes, and the quality was not great.
“But I don’t see that kind of water at this point.”
So what exactly are the wineries hoping for from El Nino and what are they fearing from it?
“The perfect weather scenario would be cool temperatures through the dormant period which is through March, and it starts to warm up in April,” Vita said. “In summer it gets into the 90s in the daytime and drops into the 40s at night. That would be ideal.
“The worst-case scenario would be if we get cold nights and frost in March or April.”
So far – and it’s still early – El Nino’s only affect on California wines and wine production is an early harvest.
“From what I see now, I don’t consider this a really, really good year,” Vita said. “We may not get some of the great wines we’ve seen in the past.
“But it can still be a very good year for California wines.”
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