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It’s a wrap: Colorado (mostly) finishes 2017 harvest and it’s a big one

November 5, 2017 Comments off
2017 late harvest grapes 1

Hanging around after harvest. Some grapes from the 2017 harvest went unpicked, either due to lack of demand or when winemakers ran out of storage space. Photo & story by Dave Buchanan.

Talking earlier this summer to winemakers and grape growers across Western Colorado left two impressions: One, All signs earlier this summer pointed to an early harvest and, two, that there was going to be a lot of grapes to harvest. In most cases that has proven true.

“I think everyone is finished except for some late stuff that didn’t get harvested and was left hanging,” state viticulturist Horst Caspari of the CSU research station on Orchard Mesa said last week. “One reason some grapes weren’t harvested is because the wineries’ tanks are full and no one is buying anymore.”

Most winemakers are reporting this year’s harvest took advantage of excellent mid-summer growing conditions and ran about two weeks early across the valley.

Kaibab Sauvage of Colorado Vineyard Specialists LLC in Palisade said he forecast an early harvest last spring after seeing an early bud break (flowering) on his vines.

“We were about 20 days ahead of normal,” said Sauvage, who owns and manages vineyards and sells grapes on contract to winemakers. “This was an excellent harvest, especially because it’s done. We came up with a little unsold fruit but for the most part we got everything sold.”

Sauvage repeated what many grape growers were saying, that the size of the 2015 and 2016 harvests, among the largest in the valley’s history, haven’t left much room for the 2017 crop.

The two previous years allowed wineries to fill their tanks and build some back-stock after disappointing harvests in 2013 and 2014.

But wineries still have much of that back-stock, which means they don’t have extra tanks or storage places open.

“We have a history of feast or famine, and (winemakers) definitely feasted in 2015 and 2016,” Caspari said. “We still have plenty of inventory from last year and sales aren’t increasing by 20 percent every year. Most wineries have bought all they can take or want or both.”

Jenne Baldwin-Eaton, who teaches the viticulture and winemaking courses at Western Colorado Community College, said she had grape growers cautioning her in September about an early harvest.

“The students weren’t quite ready for the grapes when they got delivered,” she said. “I told them, ‘Welcome to the world of winemaking.’”

However, Nancy Janes at Whitewater Hill Vineyards and Winery said her crop, which is west and a bit higher in elevation than most other grape areas in the Grand Valley, finished right on schedule.

“I’d say at this point we’re pretty much right back on track,” Janes said. “So sometime during the course of it we fell back into a more normal schedule.”

She said her harvest, which she expects to be around 90 tons, is up a bit from last year. Some of that, she said, is the growing conditions this year as well as continuing recovery of vines damaged during the hard winters of 2013 and 2014.

Sauvage agreed that 2017 has been excellent for quality.

“Both quality and quantity,” he emphasized. “We were down about five percent from 2016 but that was the biggest year I’ve seen in Colorado for the last 17 years.”

Caspari said early estimates put the 2017 harvest at just over 2,000 tons. When all the numbers come one, this year could eclipse the 2,100 tons harvested in the 2012, the largest yet on record.