Let The Games Begin: Sonoma’s 2011 Grape Harvest


Judy Jordan of J Winery crowns winemaker Melissa Stackhouse, Winemaker Queen. (Photo from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat)

Ever wonder what harvest is like in wine country? Do you imagine that’s it’s serene and bucolic, with the sun shining down on vineyard hands and winemaking staff as they happily gather the fruits of their labors?
Here’s how J Winery’s George Rose puts it: “Our winemaking team definitely is gearing up for what they like to refer to as war,” Rose said. “It’s a very grueling process.”

So gird your loins, folks; harvest 2011 is about to begin. And it appears that some wineries have a unique way of launching it.
J Vineyard and Winery in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley is among the first to start picking. They kicked off their harvest early Monday morning with a blessing of the grapes ceremony, and the crowning of their very own Winemaker Queen.
This year’s harvest was a huge concern a few months ago, when cool temperatures and record spring rains threatened to ruin the vintage. In fact, the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission reports that yields will be down anywhere from 20 – 25%, because those rains knocked the flowers right off the vines and resulted in fewer and smaller berries on each cluster of grapes.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. J winemaker Melissa Stackhouse (aka Winemaker Queen) says the smaller grapes have more concentrated flavors, which will produce more intensely-flavored wine. And despite the cool spring, the weather has since cooperated and allowed longer hang time than usual, which contributes greater depth and more complexity to the wine.

So onward and upward; let the games begin. I for one will be looking forward to the fruits of J’s and every other winery’s labors when eventually, a year or two or three down the road, I taste wine from the 2011 vintage. Until then, Cheers!

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