Say Cheers to the Harvest Season During California Wine Month

September is the 13th annual California Wine Month, and there’s no better way to celebrate than in the Santa Maria Valley with a rather early harvest this year. In fact, the Travel Channel named the Santa Maria Valley one of the top 10 new cities for wine snobs.

According to the California Wine Institute, vines have been grown in California for nearly 250 years, and California produces 85 percent of the wine made in the United States today. It is the fourth largest producer of wine in the world. California Wine Month was created to honor the culture of tradition and innovation built by the state’s 4,700 vintners and 5,900 growers.

In California Governor Jerry Brown’s proclamation, he states “This month, millions of tourists will come to our state from around the world to sample our vintages and enjoy the many other attractions that our several distinct wine regions have to offer. I hope that many Californians will join me in raising a glass to the pioneers, beginning with Padre Kino, who helped bring this amazing bounty to our state, and the many diligent and innovative workers today who help the industry continue to thrive.”

Santa Maria Valley is an acclaimed wine-growing region, and one of six federally recognized American Viticultural Areas (AVA) within Santa Barbara County, which encompasses one of the top wine regions in the world. It is the ideal home base for those looking to enjoy California’s Central Coast. You’ll find the Santa Maria Valley nestled amongst rolling rows of produce and the foothills of Santa Barbara Wine Country, while enjoying the cool ocean breeze that rolls in from the coast.

In the Santa Maria Valley, the rain this year made for happy vines. This affect will likely last through next year’s harvest, and could even double the amount of fruit next year compared to this year. Since the warmer temperatures came a little earlier this year, harvest crews were busy picking grapes in early September.

“2017 at our estate has produced low yields but very concentrated fruit,” said Cameron Porter, estate manager at Presqu’ile Winery. “From the standpoint of chemistry, the grapes are beautifully balanced, with great acid. We expect wines that will have great structure for aging, and a freshness that speaks to the overall cool growing season.”

“Harvest this year has been a whirlwind, and has had its own set of challenges,” said Laura Booras, general manager of Riverbench Vineyard and Winery. “Quality has been really good in spite of the unusual tropical weather our region has seen. We started picking for our sparkling wines in early August and are just about finished for our still Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs now. We are very happy with what we’ve seen in the cellar so far: delicious flavors, nice acidity, and pretty color.”

“The heat spike around Labor Day got a lot of winemakers nervous, but it cooled wonderfully after just a few days, and we finished with a beautiful amount of rainfall to knock down the dust and give the vines some cooling after a very hot week,” said Wes Hagen, winemaker at J. Wilkes. He explains more in his blog post.

According to Elizabeth Gunn-Baumann of Foxen and Foxen 7200, harvest started on August 7th with Sauvignon Blanc from Vogelzang Vineyard. Their crush pad activities ramped up a couple of weeks later, with Pinot Noir coming in from both Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley AVAs. At last count, they’ve brought in 150 tons of fruit, and anticipate another 150 in the coming weeks. Quality and quantity have been exceptional, and luckily, all the Pinot Noir was harvested before the rains hit. A notoriously thin-skinned grape, Pinot Noir is more susceptible to mold and other issues if left in a damp environment.

She said that their winemakers, Billy and David, are especially excited about their estate Chardonnay from Tinaquaic Vineyard. The years of drought didn’t affect fruit quality in previous vintages, but it did wreck havoc with cluster size. Last winter’s rains boosted the vines and the 2017 yields are fantastic. They’re now bringing in their Cal-Ital varietals, and waiting for the Bordeaux-style grapes to ripen up.

“All of the Cambria Pinot Noir was harvested prior to the big heat wave, and we only had to endure one day of heat before the last block was brought in,” said Denise Shurtleff, general manager and winemaker at Cambria Estate Vineyard & Winery. “The heat initiated the Chardonnay maturity and we are in the midst of picking Chardonnay grapes off of the Cambria Estate. The Viognier and Syrah were harvested recently. So far, the wines are exhibiting great varietal characters, structure and acid balance – and they are tasting really good!”

“This year has been a year of extremes,” said Clarissa Nagy, owner and winemaker of Nagy Wines. “We’ve had very cold weather for set and bloom, a few weeks of unusually hot weather mid-harvest and a bit of scattered rain and hail. I’ve found that adds to the complexity of the wines, and tends to be vintages that stand out in quality. The concentration of flavors and aromas has been outstanding at very low Brix. This translates into lower alcohol wines and higher acids. This lends to great agibility. I’m looking forward to sharing Vintage 2017!”

There are opportunities a-plenty to experience the many flavors harvested and bottled in California. Kim Marcus of Wine Spectator recently highlighted elegant Pinot Noirs from California’s Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Maria Valley and beyond, which can serve as a terrific primer for your next stay. With 37 wineries within a 30-minute drive to the Santa Maria Valley, now you have the perfect reason for your next Santa Maria Style getaway.