Published in the September 28 – October 11, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Debbi Sanchez

Debbi Sanchez

Debbi Sanchez

As the morning sun creeps over the Diablo mountain range to our east, chasing night west, the agile hands of local agricultural workers carefully yet speedily separate clusters of grapes from the vine. With the light comes warmth to melt the morning dew. A well-timed gentle bend and the snip of a razor sharp blade — another gaggle of fruit begins its journey to the bottle. This process is repeated thousands of times during the harvest on roughly 1,500 acres of vineyards nestled in this very special place — our South County section of the Santa Clara Valley American Viticultural Area.

This year’s harvest is being met with a general optimism. An earlier-than-normal bud break (the emergence of buds on the vine) combined with a cooler summer has allowed the fruit to have a longer hang-time (time on the vine). This translates into a slower developing, well balanced fruit. Sugar content and acidity in the fruit are the yin and the yang — and balance is everything.

Credit the rains of last fall and winter for helping to deliver a bountiful crop of luscious fruit, bursting with flavor, ready to do its part in making memories, celebrating moments and lives, and tantalizing taste buds.

Our closer-to-normal rainfall helped to enhance the density and flavor in the fruit. The added rain coupled with the cooler summer combined to create a luscious, slowly-developed and fully-ripened grape that’s void of the added stresses endured by fruit grown in previous drought-stricken years.

While this year’s harvest is not a true boon year, it is by far closer to a normal yield harvest than our region has seen in several years. And although the higher stresses of a dryer year are beneficial in producing a higher sugar content in the grapes, this year’s harvest should prove to be one of balance.

The balance achieved this season due to the wetter winter and cooler summer will no doubt allow local winemakers to produce wines that will be a departure from the higher sugar content, fruit forward wines produced in recent years. As vineyards in AVA’s to the north and south deal with the possibility of detrimental effects from the months of smoke-filled air brought about by this year’s fires, it is more likely that our region will not be greatly impacted.

To use the old adage from the real estate industry: “location is everything.” We are fortunate to sit far enough to the north of the Soberanes fire, and far enough to the south of the Lake County and Napa area fires. Smoke and ash — along with the toxins they carry — can have harmful effects on grapes, especially red grapes where the skins are used in the winemaking process. The result can make wines unsuitable to taste and devastating from a production and financial standpoint.

While we hope for the best for our neighbors to the north and south, we also look forward 18 to 24 months into the future — the time when this year’s harvest is uncorked and ready for us to enjoy in all its glory.

The full-bodied, well-balanced wines that will likely be the result of this harvest will continue to represent the very best of what our wine region has to offer. The industrious hands of our local agricultural workers, along with the crafted winemakers who call our region home, will surely see to that.


Debbi Sanchez is the event coordinator at Fortino Winery on Hecker Pass. She wrote this column for Morgan Hill Life.