Get the oak barrels and stainless steel tanks ready. Local wine grape experts say harvest will come about two weeks early this year.
Normally, the grape harvest gets started in Lodi during the last two weeks of August. Instead, many growers are getting ready to pick this week. That kicks off the whole winemaking process days earlier, forcing wineries to find places to store grapes and juice until they have room in the fermenting tanks to start on 2013’s vintage.
Some growers are picking early because their grapes will go to wineries making sparkling wines, said Amy Blagg, executive director of the Lodi District Grape Growers Association. Picking early means less sugar in the fruit, leading to a lower alcohol content and a more acidic flavor.
But most of the fruit going to wines is fully matured and ready to get off the vines.
Stuart Spencer, program manager for the Lodi Winegrape Commission, said growers kept track of the warm spring weather and knew the grapes could be ready ahead of schedule.
“We’re definitely ahead of where we’ve been the last couple of years,” he said. “This actually gives us a chance of getting more grapes picked before the rains come in the fall.”
But others say no matter how early the start, the harvest season usually ends around the same time: the first week of November.
“In theory, if you start early, you can end early. But it really doesn’t happen,” said Brandon Sywassink, foreman for Manna Ranch. “The wineries can’t start a new program until they finish another one.”
The company grows their own grapes and does custom harvesting of all varietals, so the elongated grape harvest can overlap with harvesting other crops. Normally, Sywassink said his team is done with apples before the grapes get started. It’s a stress on logistics, machinery and labor supply.
“We may start early, but we’re still waiting on the varietals that aren’t so early,” he said.
But grape growers and those in the wine industry have come to expect this kind of flexible schedule.
“It’s mother nature, and we’re used to her whims,” Spencer said.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.