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December 7, 2017 | 10:59 AM

In a growing season plagued by late rains, high heat events and wildfires, the region with likely the most positive harvest recap is the newly instated Petaluma Gap AVA.

At a panel last week, five winemakers/growers stood up and said that though there were some trials, the 2017 harvest could have turned out much worse in the region, and they are very much looking forward to 2018.

Ryan Decker, Rodney Strong Vineyards; Justin Harmon, Pfendler Vineyards; Rob Harris, Price Family Vineyards; Evan Pontoriero, Fogline Vineyards and Tom Gendall of Cline Cellars were nearly all in agreement on four main points:

  • The wet winter made it difficult to make passes through the vineyard for plant care
  • The warm summer evaporated a lot of the berry weight in Petaluma Gap Pinot Noir. Other Pinot Noir producing areas, like Green Valley, did not experience much in the way of evaporation.
  • Petaluma Gap is a low-production AVA, but yields were still down in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Pinot Noir looked better than in 2016, though down about 40 percent according to Decker, and the Chardonnay crop was tough.
  • Harvesting was described as “chasing a moving target” and that grapes showed a “yo-yo effect of chemistries.” Even though constantly at the ready, many winemakers said they couldn’t get through the vineyard fast enough in some cases and in others ended up picking too soon.

Deborah Parker Wong served as moderator and helped guide the Q & A. Looking ahead, the panelists hope that 2018 will prove to be a better, more consistent year. “Have you ever lost two to three hands of blackjack and think, ‘I gotta win one?’ That’s 2018,” said Rob Harris, Price Family Vineyards.

Some good news: The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) established the Petaluma Gap on California's North Coast as its newest designated AVA today. It defines the unique grape-growing area in southern Sonoma County and northern Marin County and acknowledges the region's distinctive aspects based on topography and the effects of persistent wind and fog on the grapevines. Of the 4,000 acres of vineyards in the 200,000-acre region, 75 percent are planted to Pinot Noir with most of the remaining acres equally planted to Chardonnay and Syrah; other grape varieties comprise less than 1 percent of the planted acreage.

For more information on the AVA, click here.

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