Others may whine, we’ve got the wine
Stand aside, Napa and Sonoma. This is El Dorado’s year.
Sunshine and warm temperature, all the stuff of a glorious Indian summer, are also key to what many El Dorado winemakers are calling a banner year.
“You can hear the whining in Napa and Sonoma,” said John Smith, owner of Oakstone Winery in Fair Play. “That’s because this is our year. Last year, we were whining, and Napa and Sonoma were celebrating.”
Most of El Dorado County’s 38 vineyards and 17 wineries are picking big, flavorful grapes, and lots of them.
“It’s fabulous,” said Susan Boeger, co-owner of Boeger Wineries in Placerville. “Very high quality fruit.”
While great fruit doesn’t necessarily ensure great wine, it’s more than half the process.
“The heart of any winery operation is farming,” said Margaret Latchum, vice president of Latchum and Granite Springs’ vineyards. “A good 70 percent of the bottle of wine is made in the fields.
“The thing about being a farmer is that you do the same thing every year – planting, pruning, fertilizing. The only thing you can’t control is the weather.”
It takes 90 days from the first blossoms on the vine until the grapes are ready for picking. During that time, rain, or lack thereof, is critical to the quality of grapes.
“For most wines, you don’t water the vines because the ground should hold enough water,” said Frank Latchum, owner of Latchum Vineyards. “The key is a wet winter so the water table is at the right level. Then you need a dry, warm growing season. The idea is to stress the vine, forcing the vine to dig a little deeper into the ground and use whatever minerals and nutrients are available to it.”
The soil characteristics, as well as the vines themselves, are what give wine its subtle differences in taste.
“The zinfandel grapes we grow in Latchum have different characteristics than the grapes we grow at Granite Springs, which is only five miles away,” said Margaret Latchum.
If the grapes get too much rain, mildew will spoil the bunches. Too little rain and the grapes can end up like raisins.
When gambling with almost 1,200 acres of El Dorado vineyards, more than twice as much as was planted a decade ago, weather can be a multimillion dollar factor.
An acre of premium vineyards can yield three to four tons of grapes, which in turn can produce 160 to 180 gallons of wine.
For El Dorado this year, the abundant harvest of grapes may be the county’s cash cow.
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