Monterey County

Central Coast vineyards harvesting early because of drought

Grapes of exceptional quality this year, growers say

Drought forces vineyards to harvest grapes early

SOLEDAD, Calif. - Vineyards across California haven't seen such little rain in decades. There was concern the grape harvest would be threatened by the drought. Central Coast wineries said Tuesday they've had to harvest early this year because of the lack of rain.

Wineries said although they have had to harvest weeks ahead of schedule, the harvest is looking pretty good. There have not been any major impacts, at least not yet.

On Tuesday, the first bin of pinot noir grapes of the season made their way through the tank that processes them at Hahn Winery in Soledad.

The grapes are lightly crushed, de-stemmed, then fermented. The process is happening at least two weeks earlier for local wineries, because the drought brought an early spring.

"We did not have heavy rain last year and not much rain at all over the spring and summer, so we're looking at a lot of that resulting in early ripening, a little faster ripening, more concentration of flavors and aromas," said Greg Freeman, winemaker.

Freeman said he has not seen such an early harvest in the 12 years he's been at Hahn.

Despite the unusual schedule and early bud break, he said the signature grape is of exceptional quality this year. It was enough for the staff to celebrate one of the most important days of the year with champagne.

It's a relief for David Tonus, director of hospitality at Hahn Winery, who was worried 2014 would throw the industry a curve. But to his delight and surprise, the weather has been consistent.

"We haven't had any big spikes in heat. We've had a very constant, warm summer with the cool ocean breezes, so when you have that cycle the grapes love it. They don't like low lows, high highs," Tonus said.

While the record drought doesn't seem to pose any major problems this year, the hope is that doesn't change next year.

"At the moment, the drought is working in our favor," Freeman said.

Vineyards have had to really rely on drip irrigation to keep their crops going.

The harvest season is expected to end around the first week of November.

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