The 2017 harvest was the most inconsistent we have ever experienced. Weather during the year and especially during the harvest, with its dramatic shifts, confused us, the vines and the grapes.
The wonderful wet winter and spring we had relieved our drought conditions, but also produced some flooded vineyards and a receptive atmosphere for mildew infections. There were three varieties in some vineyards that we had handled in previous years that had to be rejected due to mildew damage.
The late spring and early summer were a little warmer than normal but generally good for berry and bunch development. After veraison and later in the summer, temperatures averaged much higher than normal. It culminated with the dramatic heat wave of triple digits for over a week from late August to early September. It cut down on the crop and caused a lot of heat damaged to the vines. Needless to say a lot of grapes were unacceptable. We rejected grapes that we had already contracted due to this heat damage. The heat reduced sugar levels throughout the State as vines went backwards in their maturation process.
Following the heat wave, there was a cold weather problem for almost 12 days. Sugars stayed low. Many wineries throughout the State never operated at 100% capacity and were closer to 50%. Later in September, the State returned to normal temperatures and the harvest continued.
Despite news coverage that there was no trucking strike this fall, there was a deliberate freight stoppage or slow down. Drivers were protesting new Federal Electronic controls on the hours and days they can work.
Rates from the beginning season rose almost 20% during middle September. What was even more frustrating was the lack of availability of transportation. There was a whole week when we hardly shipped out anything refusing to pay the rates demanded. Since we own our own cold storage facility, we were able to hold the fruit without any additional cost of storage and eventually saving some of our customers significantly higher freight charges.
EXPERIENCE AND PERSISTENCE PAYS OFF
A lot of winemakers throughout the State are complaining about the poor condition of the harvest. However, we are very happy with the results of the season. It took a lot of work and field supervision. Some of the first grapes picked in 2016 were the last we harvested in 2017. There were several vineyards that we visited at least 10 times before a decision was made that the grapes were properly mature with good flavors and sugar. Our excellent list of growers that we have and continue to rely on over the years was also a prime asset.
Our harvesting labor crews with over 15 years experience helped us tremendously in picking and packaging the proper grapes. There was no labor shortage for us because there was never peak harvest time. Also the crews know that we will compensate them equitably, no matter the condition. They know producing the best package of grapes, whether in bins or corrugated plastic containers, is the priority, not the cost.
THANKS FOR YOUR CONCERN
When the fires started in Napa and Sonoma counties, we got a lot of calls and e-mails asking if we were okay. We want to thank everyone for their concerns. We experienced no effects other than one morning there was a little haze and smell of smoke. It was devastating to see damages done to people’s homes and wineries.
There is no consensus as to what the tonnage was for the 2017 grape harvest. I feel it was at least 10% off from last year. We haven’t heard of any price fluctuations for grapes during the season. However, we are seeing bulk wine prices increasing and for some varieties dramatically. I am not sure it is justified. We all will have to wait for the Crush Report this winter.
We wish everyone had a very Happy Thanksgiving.
F. Colavita & Son has a lot to be thankful for. Our season was very hard but it turned out rewarding. We are hearing from our commercial and home winemakers about their satisfaction with the grapes they received from us. Even though volume throughout the industry is down, ours actually increased. More than that, we are already getting inquires from potentially new customers for grapes in 2018. Thanks