- Author: Glenn McGourty
2014 was a most unusual year-- it was the driest winter on record in Mendocino and Lake Counties, with only 2 inches of rain in December and January, instead of the normal 20. Fortunately, several well-timed storms in February and March helped to get enough rainfall to fill the vineyards' soil profile and have sufficient surface runoff to partially fill our many small ponds and reservoirs. Bud break was almost 3 weeks early. Spring fortunately was warm, with no frost events. The summer was one of the warmest on record, mainly because there was less coastal fog to cool off the region with evening winds. High overcast weather resulting from residual clouds from tropical storms in Mexico kept evenings warm, which also helped to accelerate ripening, as evenings did not cool down much below 60 °F. Harvest was compressed, and every variety finished early. As the harvest progressed, winemakers were mostly happy with the quality of the fruit, as it was free of mold and other defects. By October 15th, harvest was over for most our region.
Many vineyards had lower than normal yields, off by as much as 30% of the average. Some of this was likely a function of how much water growers had available for irrigation. If you had enough water, crops were near normal in size. Water rights were curtailed by the State Water Resources Control Board for many growers along the Russian River, forcing them to cease irrigation. Dryland vineyards around the region ended up with very ripe fruit and lower than normal yields. In Lake County growers with good wells had near normal yields, while those with smaller water supplies ended up with shorter than usual crops.
Smaller crops were helpful to the wineries, however as some still had sizeable amounts of bulk wine to sell from 2013. Large carryovers from the previous two record crops had many wineries scrambling for storage space to make room for this year's crush. Shorter crops on many varieties should help bring about a more favorable supply/demand situation.
Both the new Virginia Creeper Leafhopper and the already established Western Grape Leafhopper were a problem for many growers this year. The warm weather encouraged at least an extra generation, requiring extra spraying. Spider mites were also a problem in some drought stressed vineyards.
More vineyards were harvested mechanically as labor continues to be less available.
Regardless of the challenges, wine makers believe that the 2014 Vintage will be a good one, as the fruit came in ripe, clean and concentrated. Early indications are that the wines are impressive and 2014 will be a vintage to be remembered.