From lower yields and gophers to promising cabs and new babies, Temecula winemakers share how they’re feeling about harvest this year
‘Tis the season! Harvest season, that is.
Harvest in Temecula Valley is a magical time of year. The vines are lush and green, the grapes have reached full ripeness, and the wineries are abuzz with the excitement of a new crop.
While Temecula Valley is known for bright whites, classic methode sparkling wines, rich reds, and a range of sweet and dessert wines year after year, the real excitement comes with the small – and sometimes striking – differences between each harvest. Was it a hot year or unusually cool? Was there a lot of rain? Late spring frosts? How are yields looking? This kaleidoscope of factors contributes in no small way to vintage variation and keeps winemakers on their toes. It’s also part of what makes wine so beguiling to us – the wine lovers who get to enjoy each bottle after harvest.
Temecula Valley has a warm, Mediterranean climate, with long sunny days, cool mornings and nights, and late afternoon breezes. The growing season is long and there is relatively low rainfall throughout the year, which means lots of time for grapes to develop their sugars and flavor ripeness without the pressure of humidity and late-season rains that can lead to disease and other problems during harvest. The large difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures – called a “diurnal shift” – allows the grapes to retain their acidity despite the heat, creating fresh and balanced wines with lots of flavor. A range of grapes grows well in this climate, which is why Temecula is known for so many different types of wines. Some of the world’s most celebrated wine regions have a Mediterranean climate.
Harvest time can be exciting, frenetic, and nerve-wracking for winemakers. Many Temecula Valley winemakers pick grapes at night or in the very early morning hours to take advantage of the cooler temperatures – not just for more comfortable working conditions, but to ensure that the grapes arrive intact and don’t start fermenting or oxidizing before they reach the winery. The long hours, rigorous physical work, and unpredictable schedules can make this an exhausting time at the winery for many.
We caught up with a few Temecula Valley winemakers to check in on how they are feeling about this year’s harvest, and what they are most excited about this season. Joe Wiens from Wiens Family Cellars, Jon McPherson from South Coast Winery and Carter Estate Winery, and Renato Saís from Akash Winery all shared their thoughts on the upcoming harvest.
TVWA: How is the 2022 harvest looking for you?
Joe: “The growing season has been fairly moderate for our vineyards. We had a freeze event in mid-April (which affected most of the west coast). This freeze resulted in some crop losses in our higher elevation vineyards, especially in the early-to-bud varieties like Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. We have also noticed uneven ripeness as we near harvest, especially in the early varieties. Grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon ripen later in the season and seem to have escaped much of the frost damage and uneven ripeness.
“Fortunately we haven’t had any big heat waves in 2022 (knock on wood!), which means the variation in cluster ripeness is able to somewhat even out naturally. We are expecting roughly the same tons per acre as last year, which is down from our usual average. This is likely due to the lack of rainfall, which naturally washes away salt buildup in the soils. The salt will hinder the plant’s ability to take up water from the roots, resulting in lower yields. Overall, the fruit looks very clean and pristine, which should make for a beautiful, if not bountiful harvest.”
Renato: Although it has been a very dry year for all of us, and it seems that is the trend nowadays, temperatures have remained very steady and mild compared to other hotter years. Fruit-set is really nice. Our biggest issue in the vineyards is the squirrels and gophers! Managing them has been the biggest challenge this year for us. Other than that, we expect a very humble harvest from our vines.
Jon: “2022 Harvest looks to be average yields with above average quality. Warmer spring temperatures pushed us into an earlier start as we are picking our Wild Horse Peak Pinot Noir later this month for sparkling wine.”
TVWA: What are you most excited about this season?
Joe: “Because we are expecting a lighter harvest, we are looking forward to spending more time with each lot of wine. This extra attention should result in the highest quality wine possible, across the board. We’re also expecting a baby in late September, which is very exciting for my wife and me, and perhaps less so for the rest of our production team (who will have to pick up a little slack). Fortunately, we have a passionate and dedicated winemaking team, which I am fully confident will not skip a beat. Our production crew is excited for harvest to start as we wind down our bottling season. The change of pace is fun, and we always look forward to getting our hands on the newest vintage of grapes.”
Renato: “Like any other harvest, I am excited about the challenge of making wine, having fun, and enjoying the time and effort in the vineyard and in the cellar to transform the beautiful fruit. I’m always thinking this is the best harvest that is ever going to be – optimism must exist and, along with it, timely execution.”
Jon: “We are excited for another opportunity to make great wines.”
TVWA: Are there any grapes you feel will be stand-out for you this year?
Joe: “Our Bordeaux varieties, which will make up roughly 3/4 of our production by volume, look beautiful. They escaped much of the frost damage and have benefitted from the moderate weather. Look out for our 2022 Cabernets!”
Renato: “Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon from our estate. I’m always expecting the best of the grapes – they look amazing.”
Jon: “Everything should be outstanding.”
TVWA: Anything you are worried about?
Joe: “As the climate continues to change, I am worried about the long-term viability of many of the world’s wine-growing regions. From lengthy droughts, massive wildfires, and unusual weather patterns, we have a lot to keep an eye on as generational winemakers and grape growers.”
Renato: “I am definitely worried about a lot of things: A lack of experienced workers available, the economy, but we are all worried about this… In our industry, the most I am worried about and in the long term is drought, gophers, and squirrels.”
Jon: “We are only worried about having enough water at our Wild Horse Peak vineyard to make it through the season.”