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Local grape harvest looks strong despite damp weather

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Posted: Friday, October 19, 2007 10:00 pm

Recent rainy weather has forced grape growers to speed up their harvest but hasn't harmed the quality of the crop, local farmers said Friday.

The vast majority of the fruit has now been picked, with just a few late-ripening red varietals still on the vine.

"It seems like the weather didn't really bother any of the crops," said Joe Valente, president of the San Joaquin Farm Bureau and vineyard manager for Kautz Farms.

He estimated that 95 percent of the area's grapes have been picked, with about a week left in the harvest season.

Growers this year predict overall production will be slightly below average, with exceptionally high-quality fruit. On average, the region produces roughly 500,000 tons of grapes each year. Two years ago, it produced a record of around 700,000 tons.

Valente noted that last week's spotty rain showers weren't strong enough to damage the grapes.

Too much moisture can dilute the grapes' sugar levels. When rain combines with cold temperatures, it can lead to rot and mold.

Last week, however, harvesters anticipated the wet weather and sped up their work.

"A lot of the growers were able to get the majority of their grapes harvested before the rain set in," noted Stuart Spencer, winemaker at St. Amant Winery, northeast of Lodi.

Workers wear rain gear as they harvest grapes Friday at Armstrong Road and Curry Avenue in Lodi. (Jennifer M. Howell/News-Sentinel)

Wine regions like the Central Coast have been hit harder than Lodi this year by wet and cool weather, delaying their harvest season. The delay can force some growers to pick grapes before they're ripe. They do this to avoid more rain and possible rot later in the fall.

In some extreme cases, growers might hire a helicopter to hover over and dry their vines. Fans are also used.

"It's not really an issue you have to deal with in Lodi," Kevin Phillips said, noting the area stays much warmer and drier than other wine regions.

The vineyard manager for Michael-David Vineyards added that today was the family's final day of harvesting.

Even if the area did get a downpour, few local growers can afford to take extreme measures, said local grower Bob Lauchland.

Local grape prices, he noted, are too low to go to those lengths, he explained.

Measures some take to protect their grapes from cold and wet weather:

• Most commonly, the harvest is simply sped up a day or two.

• Farmers can cut back leaves to expose grapes to sun and wind.

• Fans can be used to dry crops.

• In extreme cases, helicopters have been used to dry grapes in some regions.

Source: Local grape growers

"There's not a whole lot you can do," said Lauchland, owner of J.R. Lauchland and Sons Vineyards, west of Lodi. "You just hope if a storm comes that it doesn't hit you too hard, and that you have a nice, strong wind that comes through."

He added that the quality of area grapes has been high, with few cases of rot.

He emphasized that prices, not the weather, have caused a gloomy outlook for the local industry.

"Prices are just poor, not sustainable," he said. "There's vineyards that may be changing hands … You can only hang on so long."

Contact reporter Chris Nichols at chrisn@lodinews.com.

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  • posted at 6:13 am on Tue, Oct 23, 2007.


    That is a Great price!

  • posted at 2:28 pm on Sat, Oct 20, 2007.


    178 dollars a ton for those quality Lodi winegrapes? WOW! Time to sell to Gillespie and SJVLC with prices that low.

  • posted at 1:03 pm on Sat, Oct 20, 2007.


    The harvest may look strong, but did the farmers receive a good payment for their crop?

  • posted at 8:25 am on Sat, Oct 20, 2007.


    A ton! great lodi grapes?



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