California 2004 Wine Harvest Was Early, Light and of High Quality
SAN FRANCISCO December 1, 2004 - California's winegrape harvest was one of the fastest and earliest in the state's history, starting at the beginning of August two to three weeks earlier than normal. Throughout the state, the wineries reported a crush of excellent quality fruit and yields per acre that were normal to light. The California Department of Food and Agriculture's latest prediction for a crop estimate is 2.7 million wine tons, down six percent from 2003. The record high crush was in 2000 with 3.32 million tons of winegrapes.
"The crop came in less than estimated and we are very pleased with the wine quality from the 2004 vintage across the board," said VP/Director of Winemaking Dennis Martin of Fetzer Vineyards and Bonterra Vineyards. "High levels of color and dense flavors should result in some memorable wines," added viticulturist Jeff Lyon of E. & J. Gallo Winery.
Vintners described a favorable growing season that started early with a warm spring, followed by a mild summer and some heat at the end.
"Irrigation management was key this yearÑour vineyards didn't suffer from the extreme heat so we were able to pick grapes at peak flavor development," said winemaker Jeffrey Stambor of Beaulieu Vineyard in Rutherford.
"The early crush helped bring in the crop safely before the early arriving rains this year," said Joe Ciatti of Joseph W. Ciatti Company in San Rafael. "Supply is moving into a balanced situation."
"Although there are still excesses of some varieties, the 8-10 year supply cycle is quickly moving out of oversupply and towards balance," commented Bill Turrentine of Turrentine Brokerage in Novato. "The wine business is moving out of excess because most of the new vineyards planted during the boom years of 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000 are already in production. The rate of production growth is therefore likely to slow down over the next couple of years. Also, most wineries feel that the rate of sales growth is starting to pick up.
The industry's movement out of excess has been further accelerated by the light, high-quality crop of 2004." California wine shipments to all markets are up 6.4 percent nine months through September 2004, compared to the previous year, according to Jon Fredrikson of Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates in Woodside. The weaker dollar and improved U.S. economy have contributed to the increase of wine sales.
Harvest 2004 Quotes
Comments On California And Multi-County Appellations
Bob Steinhauer, Senior Vice President, Vineyard Operations Beringer Blass Wine Estates, California
The 2004 growing season started and ended earlyÉas early as any I've seen in my entire career. The spring and summer months were textbook perfect for grape growing, and for awhile it looked like the pace of harvest would be nice and even. Mother Nature had other ideas, of course, and instead everything was accelerated when temperatures warmed at the end of August and stayed warm into September. But because the season got an early start, the grape clusters had matured nicely and were ready for picking. Yields, almost across the board, were lighter than expected, so we're seeing good color, beautiful aromas, and concentrated flavors in the fermenters. Now, it's up to the winemakers.
Bob Trinchero, Chairman of the Board, Trinchero Family Estates, California
Good News, bad news. The good news is quality is very high. On a scale of 1-10, it's either an 8 or 9. Bad news is the crop was short about 20 percent.
Dennis Martin, Vice President Director of Winemaking, Fetzer Vineyards/Bonterra Vineyards, California and Mendocino counties
This is the earliest harvest any of us can remember. We started the first week in August and by late August, early September we were in full swing, spurred on by a heat spell that intensified the picking and deliveries of the fruit. The crop came in less than estimated and we are very pleased with the wine quality from the 2004 vintage across the board. It's always a great feeling when the grapes are safely in the winery and the wines are resting in the tank awaiting further blending and aging.
Jeff Lyon, Viticulturist, Gallo of Sonoma, North Coast and Central Coast AVAs
The 2004 vintage got started very early; warm early spring and very moderate summer conditions. The white wines will go down as some of the best ever; bright, clean flavors across the board. A heat spike in early September put a bump in the road for most of the reds with sugar spiking quickly. Once the weather cooled, the grapes were able to ripen more gently and evenly, putting some high potential red wines in the tank for us. A light crop produced high levels of color and dense flavors and should result in some memorable wines from the 2004 vintage.
Walter Schug, Owner/Winemaster, Schug Carneros Estate
Nature is in chargeÉIt's only natural! Most of us knew that the 2004 harvest would be early by at least 10 days. What surprised us were two heat spikes, which seemed to ripen all varieties at all locations at once. The cool nights of the Carneros region helped preserve the acidity. It turned out to be the earliest and shortest harvest on record. Those who listened to nature and were equipped to process all grapes on time can expect wines of great balance and complexity.
Michael Terrien, General Manager/Director of Winemaking, Acacia Vineyard, Carneros
Vintage 2004 started early and finished early. A heat spell in late August betrayed the summer's moderate temperatures and quickly changed the pace of the harvest. Sugars rose, acids dropped, and our crew found themselves working into the wee hours of the morning to keep pace with optimal ripeness. The Pinot Noir appears to be ripe and spicy with good concentration. Chardonnay ripens a couple weeks later than Pinot Noir and was more robust when the heat came. We are thrilled with the fresh citrus and floral aromas that are already developing as primary fermentations draw to a close.
Harry Hansen, Winemaker, Edna Valley Vineyard, San Luis Obispo County
It was the tale of two vintages in 2004. The growing season started early. Summer was nice and cool, and the grapes slowly ripened on the vines. Then, we were hit with a heat wave in the second week of September that changed the whole complexion of the vintage. We had four days of 100-plus degrees that accelerated ripening. We had to hustle to get everything in before the grapes turned to raisins. The early ripening actually worked in our favor, since we had everything in the barn before the rains started unusually early this year.
Alec Franks, Winemaker, Rancho Sisquoc Winery, Santa Barbara County
Harvest started early for us with Pinot Noir in late August. The heat wave that followed pushed Chardonnay, Johannesburg Riesling, Sylvaner and Malbec to maturity. It also spiked the sugar levels in Syrah. Yields were moderate to low overall. Quality looks very promising.
Louis Lucas, Owner/grower, Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards, Santa Barbara County
The 2004 harvest was one of the earliest that I remember in 30 years of growing grapes in Santa Barbara county. It was about average in crop size and, most importantly, the grapes had a good chance to ripen well. From all indications of the new wines I've tasted, it looks very promising.
Doug Meader, President, Ventana Vineyards & Winery, Monterey County
Whites: Normal superb quality. Quantity down on Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Reds: FANTASTIC!!! Best by far that I've ever seen here in 30 years. Results are a combination of newer farming procedures, a warm and early year, and age of vines.
Bill Petrovic, VP - Director of Vineyard Operations, Delicato Vineyards, Monterey
An excellent season both in quality and yield. Our 5,000-acre vineyard had consistent yields in all 20 varieties with great brix, pH and total acid measures at harvest time. The only variety which was affected from the early and abundant rain was Cabernet, where harvest was delayed due to lowered brix, but the fruit quality did not suffer. The early spring shot us out of the cannon on the whites and the mid harvest cooling trend put the brakes on the reds. We had below normal frost in the spring time and only one heat spike during the season. All in all, a very good year for growing high quality grapes.
Rich Smith, Owner/Grower, Paraiso Vineyards, Santa Lucia Highlands Appellation, Monterey County
Here in the Santa Lucia Highlands, early spring weather resulted in early growth of full canopy and then early bloom. The balance of the season had 'normal' day and nighttime temperatures --the crop moved along very evenly and uniformly. Overall, Pinot Noir quality arriving at the winery was good to very good. Balance of harvest was "textbook" with Chardonnay, Riesling and Syrah on the estate brought in at full maturity with good chemistries. Syrah on the Santa Lucia Highlands bench may have been the greatest benefactorÑthe quality of fruit looks truly outstanding.
Karl Wente, Vice President, Viticulture & Winemaking, Wente Vineyards, Livermore Valley/Arroyo Seco
The harvest was early this year and the crop size was moderate. The quality looks great, with ample natural acidity. We had the luxury, due to an early harvest, of making picking decisions without the threat of rain or cold weather slowing down the ripening of the grapes. There is not one grape type that did not seem to thrive in the moderate temperatures throughout the growing season; early tastings indicate that the color and tannins in the red wines are large, but in balance with the fruit flavors.
George Phelan, Winemaker, Dunnewood Vineyards, Mendocino County
Harvest started with Sauvignon Blanc early on August 19, as a result of especially light crops in Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Later, Zinfandel also picked out light, although Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon had near normal vineyard yields. The fast-paced crush turned exciting, with frost on Sept 22 in protected vineyards, and a "dramatic shift" in the jet stream in late October resulted in three rainstorms before the end of our harvest on October 26. The quality of fruit was excellent this year, with aromatic white varieties, as well as deeply hued and flavorful reds.
Len Brutocao, President Brutocao Vineyards and Cellars, Mendocino County
This is one of the great years that people will talk about for a long time. The sugars were not as important this year because the fruit was very aromatic with so much flavor and balanced chemistry. The crop was light and early. We had a steady growing season with no major temperature blips. The Cabs will have aging potential. It's a very favorable year.
Darren Procsal, Winemaker, Atlas Peak Vineyards, Napa Valley
Spring arrived early in 2004. Our mountain appellations were a good two weeks ahead of last year, and the crops were lighter than expected in most cases. The Sangiovese vintage will be stellar. The berries were small and developed to full maturity on the vine. The colors are deep and intense, and the acidity is round and balanced. We are well on our way to another outstanding vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon. The colors are inky and black. The tannins are big and round, lending themselves to wines that will be dense and well structured. The flavors are rich with ripe blueberry and plum.
Ludovic Dervin, Winemaker, Mumm Napa Valley
As one of Mumm Napa's earliest harvests, 2004 could most likely be one of the top three vintages in the winery's 26 years of history. The fruit had great flavor concentration and exceptional acid structure, forecasting an outstanding aging potential. To ensure wines of balance we conducted more malolactic fermentations than usual, adding an extra layer of creaminess in the final sparkling wine blends. Thanks to the terrific work of our crews in the vineyards and winery, we managed to process all of our grapes at optimum natural ripeness levels, turning them into wonderful base wines for the final assemblage, with notable richness and complexity.
Jeffrey Stambor, Winemaker, Beaulieu Vineyard, Rutherford, Napa Valley
The 2004 harvest came early and left quickly, but left us with some fantastic wines. It started a week early and that same trend continued throughout the moderately warm growing season with no real rain, cold or hot temperatures. Cluster counts indicated a smaller than normal harvest, but all the quality elements predict a fabulous vintage. By early September, an abnormally dry and long heat wave drove sugars to high levels and taxed winery capacity. Irrigation management was key this yearÑour vineyards didn't suffer from the extreme heat so we were able to pick grapes at peak flavor development. Cabernet quality is great with dark color, bright flavors and ripe tannins.
Bruce Cakebread, President & COO, Cakebread Cellars, Napa Valley
This year, we had our earliest harvest start since 1981 and our fastest harvest ever. We started with Sauvignon Blanc on August 12, and finished harvest the last week in September. Our winemaker Julianne Laks and our viticulturist Toby Halkovich worked very hard to stay up with harvest so as to pick at property maturity. For our Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay wines we did more harvesting under lights at night to help bring in cold fruit to the winery. The crop loads were very low this year for Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
Tom Rinaldi, Winemaker, Provenance Vineyards, Rutherford, Napa Valley
All the red grapes arrived in September, making this one of the most compressed early harvests I can ever recall. We found the acid/pH levels to be very good. Flavors were extra ripe and jammy, and although the sugars were high, there was no raisin, pruney flavors in the grape must, nor in the wines. The colors are exceptionally deep with layers of flavor throughout. Although I had some initial reservations, the wines have shown depth and breadth of the flavor profile. It is rare that we find the black fruit notes throughout the Cabernet Sauvignons from Rutherford that are more pronounced than the usual herbal, leather, cocoa, and tobacco leaf characteristics. A powerful vintage.
Ed Coulson, Winemaker, Coulson El Dorado Winery, El Dorado County/Sierra Foothills
In our region, quantity was slightly higher than average. Quality was the best of the new MillenniumÑcolor, balance, flavor and maturity are all triple plus, due to the early spring and mild summer. Efforts in the vineyards to pay close attention to producing crop loads that can be supported by smaller root systems in the shallower foothill soils have helped increase overall quality.
Louis M. Foppiano, Vice-President, Foppiano Vineyards, Sonoma County
Real early. Real short. Real Good.
Gary Farrell, Winemaker, Gary Farrell Wines, Russian River, Sonoma County
An early bud break in the spring of 2004 set the stage for one of the earliest harvests on record in California's North Coast regions. Though unprecedented for its timing, the vintage did not disappoint. Winemakers were delighted not only by the exceptional condition of the grapes as they arrived for processing, but also the tremendous flavor development and highly desirable acid retention in the fruit. In the cellar, fermentations yielded tremendous color and stunningly rich, fully flavored wines. In short, not only will we enjoy great consistency of extremely high quality wines from the 2004 vintage, but likely some truly world-class efforts as well.
Rick Sayre, Winemaker, and Doug McIlroy, Director of Grower Relations/Vineyard Operations, Rodney Strong Vineyards, Alexander Valley, Sonoma Coast, Chalk Hill and Russian River AVAs
Fruit quality was exceptional with very good acidity and desirable varietal character. Yields were normal to significantly lower. Chardonnays are bright and full of pleasing mineral overtones. This is also an exciting year for our Cabernet Sauvignon because the early harvest allowed us to pick in warmer weather when the sugars were generally higher and the fruit was at its peak. Careful monitoring of irrigation and yields in the vineyards allowed us to really concentrate the flavors of the fruit.
Peter Poole, General Manager, Mount Palomar Winery, Temecula
The 2004 harvest in the Temecula Valley was one of the earliest on record with a number of wineries beginning crush the first week of August. Ironically, the 2004 growing season was generally cool, but vintners say that an unseasonable heat wave in late winter created a very early spring bud break. Cool weather contributed to a sparse berry set. Wineries reported crop levels from 30 to 70 percent below normal, but all said that quality was excellent with fruit acid levels holding well late into the season and excellent color in the red varieties. Most wineries met their needs for wine production in 2004, but very little fruit was sold to any wineries outside the Temecula Valley AVA.
Alex McGeary, President/Winemaster, Shadow Mountain Vineyards & Winery, North Central San Diego County
Like the rest of the growing regions here on the slopes and valleys of the South Coast range (3500 feet altitude), the harvest started on 8/12 and finished on 9/24. No frost damage in the spring gave us a larger than normal average yield. Our tanks are full! Lack of much winter chill gave us early and large populations of leafhopper in some vineyards and quality of fruit and grape must was very good. We are seeing an explosion of vineyard acreage and new wineries.