TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Southern Arizona winemakers have started harvesting their red wine grapes after waiting out heavy late monsoon rains that threatened to kill the fruit's sugar levels and wreak havoc with bunch rot.
Surprisingly, very little fruit was lost to rot, vineyard managers said.
"What I am hearing from everyone is that it is a good harvest," said Peggy Fiandaca, president of the Arizona Wine Growers Association. "People are bringing in some beautiful fruit."
The story is a little less optimistic in the Verde Valley, which has been hammered with heavy rains and cooler temperatures throughout late August and into early this month. Most winemakers there project yields will be down or flat at best.
"It's kind of hit and miss," said Jeff Hendricks, vineyard operations director for Page Springs Cellars in Cornville, which has 30 acres under vine on its four estate vineyards. "We still have quite a bit of fruit hanging, but I think it's going to be an average yield for us."
At Cottonwood's Alcantara Vineyards, owner Barbara Predmore is hoping she can salvage just shy of eight tons of fruit after losing most of her crop to a pair of late April freezes that caught her by surprise.
"I do have freeze protection on my vines, but I did not choose to use those," she said. "It's farming; sometimes you flip a coin, and I definitely lost."
Predmore anticipates the lost fruit will cost her $200,000 in future wine sales.
"It is kind of frustrating, but all you can do is look forward to next year and make sure those problems don't happen again," she said.
Vineyards around the state harvested the white wine grapes weeks ago, but held off on the reds once the late monsoon rains hit. The rains caused the sugar levels to drop, which makes the fruit unusable for wine. As the fruit dried out once the rains subsided and daytime temperatures crawled back up, the sugar levels returned.
"My syrah is not going to be harvestable, but I should be able to harvest 90 percent of the reds," said Kent Callaghan, who started picking the red grapes last Tuesday at his 25-acre Callaghan Vineyards in Sonoita. "I expect to have a very good harvest. We will probably be picking long and late, well into November."
Callaghan estimated that he would harvest nearly 60 tons of fruit this year, up from last year's 35 tons, thanks to better vine management and ideal weather throughout the peak growing season.
Robert Carlson, who runs his family's Carlson Creek Vineyard in Willcox, estimated the 40-acre vineyard would produce about 50 tons of fruit, up from last year's 35 tons. Only 16 acres of those vines are mature enough to produce wine-quality grapes, Carlson said.
At Fiandaca's own Lawrence Dunham Vineyard in Pearce, near Willcox, workers began harvesting the reds a couple weeks ago.
"We had so much fruit out on the vineyard — probably one of our highest yields — but because of rain and the cloudy days it's taken a little longer to ripen. And with the rain, you have to worry about bunch rot," she said, echoing a concern that Verde Valley vineyard operators have dreaded since the rains picked up in mid-August.
"It's really challenging when you get rains this time of year," said Justin Ove, sales manager and event coordinator for Cottonwood-based Arizona Stronghold, which has 30 acres under vine in Verde Valley but grows most of its grapes on a 120-acre vineyard in Willcox.
Arizona Stronghold, one of the state's largest wine grape growers, expects its overall harvest to be slightly under last year's 200 tons, Ove said.