This year’s annual blessing of the grapes — a Tri-Valley tradition that marks the start of the harvest season madness — came after a summer of favorable weather for growing grapes. Relatively cool temperatures without prolonged heat spikes encourages slow ripening.
Hours before the Aug. 28 blessing ceremony at Dante Robere Vineyards, Steve Burman, of the 3 Steves Winery, hurried to Danville, where he and assistant winemaker, Darin Winton, picked about 100 pounds of pinot grigio. Although their harvest yielded a meager 12 gallons, KRON 4 News reporter Terisa Estasio, who attended the blessing, had a good time, getting grubby and tossing grapes into the press.
Burman expects the next grapes in from the Danville vineyard will be grenache blanc or sauvignon blanc. They’ll also be getting sauv blanc from Donovan Vineyard in Livermore.
Before the grapes of Livermore were blessed, father and son team, Steven and Aidan Mirassou, of RagBag Wineworks, crushed 9 tons of Albarino from Terra Alta Vineyard in Lodi.
Given the multitude of microclimates around the Valley, and that many wineries bring in grapes from elsewhere, some vineyards are in the throes of harvest already.
Picking and Pressing
Larry Dino, of Cuda Ridge Wines already brought in the estate merlot from his home vineyard.
“We live behind Concannon. The soils in this area, from Buena Vista to Retzlaff, are very rocky, which retain the heat. As far as I can tell, this is the earliest ripening area in Livermore,” he said. ”So far, it looks like harvest is on track with prior years.”
Dino also has a pristine-looking young Petit Verdot vineyard on Arroyo Road. He hopes to keep the ground squirrels from eating all the grapes he’s been so carefully cultivating, with fruit drop, hedging and leaf pulling to expose each cluster to sunlight.
”It’s working, as we have even ripening across the vineyard and we will be harvesting it much earlier than the last two years, which were the first two harvests off this vineyard,” Dino said. “My goal is to produce the best Petit Verdot in California.”
Retzlaff Vineyards, which is in the same area warmed by stones as Dino’s place, harvested the estate sauvignon blanc two weeks ago. The 40-year-old vineyard produces certified organic grapes.
Las Positas winemaker Brent Amos said his harvest began on Aug. 30 with 3.5 tons of estate verdelho. The variety won best of show at Livermore Uncorked this year.
Amos also picked albariño and expects to bring in chardonnay this week.
Collin Cranor of Nottingham Cellars and Vasco Urbano, said he already picked chardonnay for his unoaked lot. He expects sauvignon blanc to follow early this month.
Waiting on the Vine
Fenestra General Manager Aaron Luna expects to get things rolling this week with sauvignon blanc from two vineyards in the Kalthoff Commons neighborhood.
“The flavors are developing very well in these blocks and will make for another thirst-quenching and universal food pairing wine,” he said. “It's shaping up to be a stellar year for Fenestra and the Livermore Valley.”
Luna won best chardonnay and rosé at the 2019 Livermore Uncorked competition.
Chris Sorenson, of Caddis, Crooked Vine and Stony Ridge, hasn’t started harvesting yet either, which comes as a surprise to him.
“It’s looking like we are still about 2 to 3 weeks away, with pinot grigio leading the pack. Flavors are starting to get where they need to be and we are just waiting for the sugar and acid to balance out,” he said. “This is the latest start for harvest I remember in the 20 plus years I’ve been working.”
Concannon’s Alyssa Barber also expects to start in the next week or two, which would be about the same time as last year.
“Looking forward to what this harvest brings. So far all the whites are fighting for the lead,” she said. “Last week, I would have said sauvignon blanc. This week, it is the viognier and semillon. So it is a toss up yet.”
Meredith Sarboraria, of Rodrigue Molyneaux, is waiting for test results from Buttner, where she sources pinot blanc, so she can gauge when to pick. She expects to start around Sept. 10 like last year.
Mark Clarin, of McGrail Vineyards, says they’ll be harvesting the first grapes from the Lucky 8 vineyard, which was purchased in 2015. McGrail planted an additional 12 acres of chardonnay, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc. The sauvignon blanc is likely to be harvested first.
“Depends on the weather of course. Chardonnay is right behind that,” Clarin said. ”The cabernet on Greenville ripens around the end of September. The Tesla Road vineyard, Lucky 8, is actually a bit cooler and ripens later.”
At Darcie Kent Vineyards, Julian Halasz isn’t planning to start harvesting until around Sept. 20 with a sauvignon blanc musque clone. He expects the first red will be the zinfandel or possibly a primitivo block that was planted in 2016.
“This will be our first crop from that block, so should be fun,” Halasz said. “Otherwise, most all our reds will be ripe in October, similar to last year, with a nice long hang time.”
Halasz explained in early ripening years, growers tend to pick thin-skinned varieties like zinfandel or petite sirah first. That’s because they’re particularly sensitive to heat waves.
“If you get shrivel or raisining in those varieties, it’s a one-way direction. We can remove the raisined grapes or keep them, if those flavors are desired,” he said. “But in years like this, it is wise to wait it out and go with longer hang times.”