Mother Nature stomps on U.S. wine harvest

Thu Oct 27, 2011 4:47pm EDT
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By Leslie Gevirtz

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Rain, cold and mold are threatening this year's California wine harvest prompting one vintner to call in a helicopter to fight Mother Nature.

"We're about three weeks late. The whole state is late," said Chuck Wagner, the owner of Caymus Vineyards, the iconic Napa winery. "Cabernet Sauvignon was definitely affected," he said of the popular varietal.

In neighboring Sonoma, Pinot Noir growers were finding botrytis - an unwelcome mold - on their grape bunches after recent rains.

California produces about 90 percent of the wines made in the United States and the state's Department of Food and Agriculture is estimating that only 3.3 million tons will be produced, down about 9 percent from 2010.

The drop can be attributed to late spring rains that ravaged vines, cooler summer weather that slowed ripening, and finally fall rains that dilute the grapes' juice.

"I think the crop will be similar to last year. Lower yields, late and terrific quality," Gladys Horiuchi, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco-based Wine Institute said.

She added that U.S. demand for wine continued to increase and that some Central Valley producers had already sold out.

To try and save his Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, which is among the latest varietals harvested, Bruce Cakebread of Cakebread Cellars in Rutherford, California hired a helicopter to fly over the rows at about 20 feet in the hopes that the wind from the chopper's blades would dry off the plants.   Continued...

<p>Zinfandel grapes grow in a Napa Valley, California vineyard that supplies grapes to Frank Family Vineyards October 8, 2011. REUTERS/Lisa Baertlein</p>