Local wineries are busy as the height of harvest season arrives

By Katherine Minkiewicz-Martine, Staff Writer, SoCoNews, August 31, 2021

Kathleen Inman, the owner and winemaker of Inman Family Wines, works on grape harvest duties. (Photo courtesy Kathleen Inman)

Sonoma County is in the throes of grape harvest season and with cooler weather and less wildfire smoke this year, the 2021 vintage is expected to be a good one.

Inman Family Wines recently began their harvest and Jordan Winery begins harvest this week. Both wineries are confident about the quality and quantity of this year’s crop, although Inman Family Wines expects a little less crop yield than normal.

Kathleen Inman, the owner and winemaker of Inman Family Wines, had her first harvest of the season on Aug. 18.

In the early morning hours of that Wednesday, pinot noir was picked from her Olivet Grange estate vineyard for her rosé, Endless Crush.

“Right now it’s looking like I’ll probably be taking in some more pinot noir and some pinot gris around Labor Day, either just before or just after and then I’m expecting the main part of the other two vineyards that I work with to be in the middle of September,” Inman said.

Inman, who has been in the wine business since 2000, estimated that all her grapes will be in by about the third week of September.

“It’s pretty much normal, it is not super early this year. We’ve had a pretty good growing season. We had a little bit of a problem with some cold weather at the time of bud break, which caused a lot of vines to have more short shoots than usual and then I also have seen that there was a bit of shatter from the high winds that we had during bloom. In May, we had some very high winds and usually we get shatter from rain during the bloom period,” she said.

Shatter is when a grape cluster fails to completely develop either because the grape vine flowers were not pollinated and never developed into berries, or because the berries fell off as soon as they formed.

This is typically triggered by high winds, rain or extreme temperatures.

“Overall, in some vineyards, I think that is going to slightly lighten the weight of the crop — not to mention the drought,” Inman said.

Grapevines have faced a lot over the last few years, including the current drought, however, they tend to be on the hardier side when it comes to drought. Because Inman was worried about smoke and drought, she ended up reducing her crop by a third by taking out two shoots from the vines.

“The fires that we had, particularly the Walbridge, affected the vineyards that I work with. Two of them, the fruit was smoke tainted so they had to be rejected. Even in the vineyards that weren’t rejected, what I found — certainly with my own vineyard — is normally after you’ve harvested the crop the leaves remain on for a number of weeks afterward and the plants kind of store up a little extra carbohydrates for the strength for next year,” Inman said.

While on the phone with Inman for an interview, she was walking through a vineyard on Sexton Road outside of Sebastopol.

“It’s a beautiful pinot noir vineyard that Jim Pratt owns that a lot of other wineries buy from this vineyard as well. I have another vineyard that is at the corner of Vine Hill and Vine Hill School Road, it’s called Pratt Vine Hill and I’m heading there next,” Inman said during our interview.

She said the Pratt Vine Hill vineyard will probably be harvested during the second week of September.

She said she expects that at her estate vineyard she’ll have a lower crop yield of about 25%. She said the other crops are looking pretty good and will likely only have a 10% reduced crop yield.

Inman normally makes between 3,800 and 4,200 cases. This year she expects to make about 4,200.

“The fruit tastes delicious and it looks very good,” she said of the 2021 vintage. “We’ve had very little problem with any sort of pests, mildew or things like that. It’s been really very smooth.”

With respect to the drought, Inman said she believes many wineries will have to do a lot of green dropping, removing fruit that is not 100% colored on the vine to make sure vines remain healthy.

Reducing the crop load allows the clusters that remain to get all the nourishment that had previously been focused on shoot growth and water and to use it to begin to ripen the fruit instead. The nutrients become focused into the few clusters that are left, resulting in more intense and flavorful fruit.

“Certainly for the wine I make I am focused on quality over quantity so I would rather sacrifice yield to make sure I am ensuring the best quality grapes so I can make the best wine possible,” Inman said.

Inman, who’s originally from Napa Valley and moved to Healdsburg after living in the U.K., makes rosé, pinot gris, chardonnay and a selection of sparkling wines.

“I bought the land out on Olivet in 1999 and I put the vineyard in in 2000 and my first vintage of pinot gris was 2002 and the first pinot noir was 2003,” Inman said. “My goal is always to make wines that reflect the place, so I make pretty natural wines.”

Meanwhile, Jordan Winery — a larger production winery known for its cabernet sauvignon and Russian River Valley chardonnay — is starting harvest later this week.

Chardonnay will likely start coming in around the first of September and their earliest reds will probably come in around the third week of September, according to Dana Grande, Jordan’s grower relations manager.

Like Inman, Jordans’ harvest is done at night when it is cool. Cabernet and merlot are typically early morning picks from 4 a.m. onwards.

“It just allows for that crispness and the freshness of the fruit to stay. Keeping it as cold as possible means that we don’t have a lot of bitterness coming out of the skins and we’re able to preserve the fruit,” Grande said.

Grande said with this year’s cooler and foggier weather, the 2021 vintage should be “quite nice.”

“From some of our early samples and just walking through the fields, we’ve got some nice flavor development starting at much lower sugars and our chardonnay we’re really liking the flavors that we’re seeing at these lower sugars and we’re also really pretty excited about this foggy cool weather we’ve been having because it will help to retain the acidity in the fruit, which is something we always look for in our style,” Grande said.

She noted that despite last year’s smoky skies, Jordan’s most recent vintage did not get any smoke taint.

“Our chardonnay is clean with regard to smoke. There are no carry over effects from vintage to vintage for smoke, so the fires that we have to the north of us — the Dixie, Tamarack and the Caldor Fire — we have seen a little bit of smoke down here. We’ve got every reason to be optimistic that the little bit of smoke that we’ve experienced so far has no effect on this vintage,” Grande said.

Grande said this year’s harvest yield will be similar to last year. Inman said the average amount of cases produced depends on a quality versus quantity perspective.

“We will make quality decisions and leave fruit if it doesn’t make the quality standard,” Grande said. “So while we shoot for our 75,000 cabernet and our 20,000 chardonnay, we will see what makes the cut.”

Jordan has 120 acres of estate-grown grapes. In May, they acquired Meola Vineyard in Alexander Valley just north of Geyserville. The property is 45 acres with 29 acres of planted cabernet sauvignon. Jordan’s chardonnay production is sourced from 100% Russian River valley grapes.

Up early (or late – depending on how you look at it) to harvest the Pinot Gris at Olivet Grange Vineyard.  (Photo courtesy Inman Family Wines)

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