Toast to a bountiful harvest | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Toast to a bountiful harvest

William Ferchland

Associated Press fileFall leaves and cabernet sauvignon grapes hang on the vine.

Although it’s a month behind last year and two weeks past normal years, El Dorado County wineries are in the initial stages of the 2005 harvest which is expected to produce 4,200 tons of wine grapes.

A late spring and cold or inclement weather this month threatened to ruin the more than 50 grape varieties grown in different regions on the western slope of the county.

Wineries in parts of Sonoma County, for instance, are reporting a late harvest brought on by cool summer and late rains as damaging to the ripening process and threatening the quality of grapes such as zinfandel and pinot noir.

But John Latcham, an owner of Latcham Winery, said that wine grapes in El Dorado County were unharmed from the accumulation of water from September rains. They were saved by El Dorado County’s weather pattern of morning winds acting like a blow dryer, he said. The late harvest allows grapes to hang on the vine longer which increases the levels of sugar, which is made into alcohol by the addition of yeast.

“(The weather) just makes it a nice slow, even ripening,” said Latcham, who is also president of El Dorado Winery Association. “It gives all the grapes a chance to come up.”

White-wine grapes such as chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and muscat canelli have been picked at Latcham Winery but the crux of the harvest will begin next week, Latcham said.

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“It’s going to be one of those years where everything wants to come in at once,” he said.

Michelle Sfara at Sierra Vista Winery said hail in May bored holes in leaves, limiting the growth from photosynthesis. The vines recovered and shouldered the brunt of inclement weather in September.

Many in the wine industry point to last year’s early harvest brought on by an ideal sun-splashed spring and consistent weather through picking.

“Last year was just a really good growing year,” Sfara said. “It was a good year and I think 2005 is going to be a really good year also.”

El Dorado County is the sixth largest wine region in California and is one of its oldest, dating back to the Gold Rush years. Like other American appellations, Prohibition and the insect invasion of phylloxera stunted, then wiped out, wine making.

Wineries, such as Boeger, returned to the area in the early 1970s to enjoy good temperatures and the high elevations of a couple thousand feet that grapes, especially reds, find suitable. The county now has 40 wineries with more expected on the way.

Greg Boeger, winemaker and president of Boeger Winery, appreciates the cooler weather but is hoping for less rain and day temperatures in the 80s.

“If it’s too hot the grapes mature too quickly or get their sugar too quickly and don’t have the time to get their complex flavors,” Boeger said. He acknowledged the weather is “not damaging at all. It’s just nerve-racking.”

The 85 acres consisting of Boeger’s vineyards is expected to turn out 300 tons of harvested grapes. The 4,200 tons of grapes expected to be harvested this year is about the same as last year but more than the 4,000 tons in 2003.

Sugar content of his grapes is in the 22 to 23 range on the Brix scale, Boeger said. He conceded it’s a bit low but he’s more concerned about the pH levels evening out.

But wine-making speak aside, Boeger is happy with this year’s crop. So far.

“We winemakers always like to say it looks like its going to be a stellar year but this one does look promising,” he said.

Besides harvesting grapes, winemakers said this is the prime season for people to visit wineries. Visitors can watch the crush and taste some grapes without the rush from summer visitors.