The 2023 California wine grape harvest is turning up late but promises to be the best yet in years. The late harvest follows a chilly winter, then an early spring, tailing off with a relatively cool summer. The vineyards took long to bud and ripen after weather events including Tropical Storm Hilary delayed planting.
All in all, some farmers are citing this the most vintage wine harvest in half a century.
Despite the wild weather ride, there was a spurt of excessive heat in July that proved congenial to normal grape ripening. With the balancing effect of current cool weather, the crop is already booking high quality reviews.
For a produce that normally thrives in hot summers, grapes in California are usually off the field by end October.
The 2023 harvest, however, is still 5 to 10% unfinished in the wine country of Napa valley by early November. Napa, in particular, enjoys lots of summer sunshine, which makes its wine grapes short season favorites.
A Question of Taste, Ripening and Sugar Intake Vs Rot
California wine growers are comparing the good side of slow development versus the risk of harvesting during freezing winter.
Flavor development and taste highlights in wine grapes, for one, are products of slow development. This is exactly what the prolonged harvest this year has lent the grapes.
Another gamble this season that is swinging a delicate line between waiting and reaping the grapes is sugar intake. In hot weather, grapes accumulate sugar quite steadily for they ripen early, but in the cold, physiological ripening delays.
This has left wine farmers gambling between waiting out the fruits at the risk of rot or attempting premature harvests.
The question of proper color intake is also making California harvesters take their time. Grapes usually need to take up acids and tannins to a certain degree before they can look wine-worthy.
However, during this waiting period, rains are also causing the grapes to grow bigger at the risk of bursting. There is also the challenge of rains washing out sugars due to excess moisture intake.
Oncoming winter freezes might also actually ferment the berries while they are still on the orchards. Both these factors may quicken the final harvest.
Vintage Wine Season
The combination of a bountiful hop harvest and the promise in grapes has set the stage for a vintage wine season.
Back in August, 2023, California hop farmers cited their hop crop as above par despite abnormal weather. They said that rains, punctuated with heat waves, helped flourish cover crops. The vegetation in turn hid the hops from insects and bad weather, hence the bumper results.
Furthermore, California made strides this year outside its wine grape realm by marking a centenary of breeding table grapes. This is just a pointer of a winning year for the entire grape sector of the Golden State.