California’s 2022 harvest is variable, but quality projections are high

Given the sheer variety of climates that California The 2022 harvest was a story of variability, specific strains and different approaches to make it all work out. Yields have fallen almost everywhere. Still, vintners and vineyard managers across the state are reporting high-quality fruit, and the prediction is that the potential for fantastic, complex wines is high.

There was tremendous variability up and down (as well as across the state). An uneven growing season with uneven impacts on California’s wine regions meant a little bit of everything.

While it started with a dry winter, rain returned in spring 2022. A wet March and April led to an earlier than typical bud break. Spring frosts, in both April and May, complicated things for much of the state and reduced yields in many AVAs. Areas like Lodi and the Sierra Foothills found the frost particularly challenging.

The vintage was also significantly influenced by an eight to ten-day heat wave around the first week of September. In some cases, this has forced winemakers to act quickly and juggle the harvest at a breakneck pace. Finding available kegs or fermentation tanks upon arrival of fruit presented a Tetris-like challenge for some producers. The heatwave also slowed things down in some cases as the vines shut down in the more extreme temperatures.

Bacigalupi Vineyards (Russian River Valley, Sonoma) Night Harvest. Credit: Justin Liddell, Destination Films

Napa Valley

California’s most famous region escaped the worst of the spring frosts and saw earlier than average harvest dates due to the early September heatwave. Temperatures ranged from 43 to 47 °C in different parts of the valley. But cooler nights, with temperatures sometimes falling to 14°C, ensured that most grape varieties did well.

The significant rainfall at the end of 2021 in Napa Valley prepare the vineyards for a strong vintage, where the harvest pace is sometimes challenging. Many winemakers called 2022 “wild”. Early yields are very positive, with high wine quality expected from white and red varieties.

Sonoma County

Despite a bud break in early February sonoma County faced a relatively mild 2022. The warm fall weather made for excellent phenolic maturity, with winemakers reporting a start a week or two ahead of average. Yields declined slightly and both berries and bunches were smaller, indicating concentrated wines. Winemakers across the board seem excited about this year’s harvest in Sonoma.

Paso Robles

Paso was largely unaffected by the early season frosts, but cooler temperatures and strong winds later in the spring posed some challenges during fruit set. A mostly mild summer saw multiple heat peaks in August and September, creating challenges in picking decisions that were further complicated by the rain that followed immediately. Heat and drought reduced yields by up to 30%. Winemakers are optimistic about the concentration in the smaller grapes that the 2022 vintage in Paso has given them.

Santa Barbara

Despite a very challenging harvest accentuated by myriad climatic hurdles, Santa Barbara winemakers are optimistic about the 2022 vintage there, especially for varieties that were harvested early. In Santa Barbara, the effects of the heat wave were mostly seen in the canopies, and so the grapes had lower than expected sugar levels after such a heat event. The late September rains also pushed back sugar levels for late-ripening varieties.

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