Early grape crush kicks off California's winemaking season

Fri Aug 22, 2014 10:36am EDT
 
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By Jennifer Chaussee

DAVIS California (Reuters) - At the University of California's prized winemaking institute near Sacramento, a sleek metal wine crusher on Thursday morning let out a deep rumble and began to shake, jostling grapes made sweeter by the state's ongoing drought into sticky juice.

Dry conditions have made this year's crop ripen early, and winemakers across the state are picking and crushing their grapes weeks ahead of the usual harvest time as the lack of water has caused them to ripen faster than usual.

"All right, let's go!" hollered Chik Brenneman, resident winemaker at U.C. Davis, to his team of four student workers.

A teal-colored tractor dumped a square plastic drum of freshly harvested Chardonnay grapes into the mouth of the roaring machine and an earthy, tangy smell like fall leaves and sour fruit filled the air.

The early harvest has stoked winemakers' concerns that ongoing drought conditions could pose a serious threat to wine quality next year, since grapes that ripen too fast can become too sweet for winemaking.

California is in its third year of a catastrophic drought that has threatened a half-billion acres of farmland and strained water supplies for 40 million people.

The grape crop has mostly been protected, as many growers have managed to spend extra cash on underground well water to protect the quality of their vines.

But well water is an expensive and limited resource, and underground wells throughout the state are becoming drier.   Continued...

 
Schiopettino grapes are shown on a vine at the  University of California Davis during a wine grape harvest in Davis, California August 21, 2014. Dry conditions have made this year's crop ripen early, and winemakers across the state are picking and crushing their grapes weeks ahead of the usual harvest time as the lack of water has caused them to ripen faster than usual. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith