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Local winegrape harvest lighter than expected, but quality is high

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Posted: Thursday, December 22, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 6:50 am, Thu Dec 22, 2011.

The winegrape harvest totals for 2011 are in, and they show a common thread of quality over quantity.

Mark Chandler, with the Lodi Winegrape Commission, says wet, cool weather through the growing season led to a lighter crop than expected.

"It was cold and wet in the spring, and the flowering period wasn't fruitful," he said.

In the Lodi area, Zinfandel and Pinot Grigio had the lightest crops, ranging from 20 to 40 percent down from average harvest numbers. Merlot's harvest was about average, Cabernet's returns were down by about 10 percent, and Chardonnay saw a harvest of about 15 to 20 percent below average.

Overall, California saw a harvest of 3.3 million tons of grapes, down from 3.7 million in 2010.

Ed Van Diemen, president of the Lodi District Grape Growers Association, said the late start to harvest didn't put growers or wineries behind. Due to the late rain, there was less fruit to process.

"They needed the fruit, so they were willing to take it in with lower sugar levels than normal," said Van Diemen.

The big issue this year, growers report, was in finding enough labor. Van Diemen said labor resources were tighter this year than he's seen in his 30 years in the industry.

"There was a lot of activity by (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) in the area, and that scared the workers off quite a bit," he said.

Despite the light harvest, local growers are expecting a good wine out of this year's crop.

The cool weather makes for real expressive fruit with a steady balance between the sweetness and acidity, as well as moderate tannins, said Chandler.

While the offical Crush Report won't be available until March 10, with a preliminary report in February, growers report a price appreciation across the board.

"It's headed in the right direction," said Chandler.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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