FAIRFIELD — Grapes at Rock Creek Vineyard are already picked and fermenting – at a time when the small winery would just be getting started with harvest.
“This is almost a month ahead for us,” said Carolyn West, who runs the winery with her husband Tom. “It was a very, very mild spring.”
Solano County’s strange weather year has launched an early grape harvest, though Rock Creek seems even further ahead than some wineries. The Wests grow Cabernet, Zinfandel and Sangiovese on 2.5 acres of sloping land in upper Green Valley.
Usually, harvest is in full swing come late September and early October. This year, full swing began a few weeks early.
“We’re so small, we just get what Mother Nature gives us,” Carolyn West said. “We have to roll with is. This year (the crop) was small and really good. Last year was huge, but really good, too.”
Grapes are a major crop in Green Valley and Suisun Valley, making this region Solano County’s version of Wine Country. The warm days and cool nights are similar to the climate found in parts of the world-famous Napa Valley.
Last winter proved very rainy at the beginning. But, by late January, spring seemed to have come to Solano County a couple of months early. January, February and March – usually some of the rainiest months of the year in the county – proved to be washouts as storm-producers.
GV Cellars in middle Green Valley is also seeing an early harvest. For example, Zinfandel grapes are ready for harvest two weeks earlier than usual.
“We had drought in the spring, we had a warm spring,” said Sal Galvan, the winemaker at GV Cellars. “We had a heat spike in June and early July. July and August were nice and cool, but we had a warm end-of-August. It was really an ideal growing year.”
The vines had an early bud break and flowered early, Galvan said. If all of August had been warm, the harvest might have come even earlier, he said.
But early isn’t necessarily bad. Galvan is enthusiastic when he talks about this year’s crop.
“The kind of flavors that are coming in are absolutely fantastic,” he said.
Solano County Agriculture Commissioner Jim Allan said the dry, warm weather made for a light mildew year. Mildew can be a major problem for grape growers.
But mild weather that proved beneficial for reducing grape pests seems to have brought out some other pests in greater numbers that affect other crops. Allan mentioned the olive fruit fly and walnut husk fly.
Wine grapes in 2012 had a value of $19.8 million in Solano County, according to the county crop report. That made grapes the county’s sixth-ranking crop, compared to 10th in 2011.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.