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"It's not going to be an easy one": Central Coast vineyards to see late harvest after winter storms

Jason Haas shows off his grapes at Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles.
Jordan Triebel
Jason Haas shows off his grapes at Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles.

California experienced triple the amount of average rainfall within the first few months of 2023, leading to heavy plant growth across the Central Coast. It even caused a super bloom of wildflowers off of Highway 1 and 58, creating excitement for locals and visitors alike.

Months later, one of the Central Coast’s biggest industries is grappling with the storms’ after-effects, as harvest season for vineyards is looking a lot different this year.

Walking through Paso Robles on a hot August afternoon, it’s almost like the storms never happened. The rolling hills at Tablas Creek Vineyard are lined with healthy grapevines and olive trees.

Owner Jason Haas said the storms gave him a scare, as a nearby creek nearly overflowed. The rain didn’t end up damaging the vines, but he predicts their harvest season will be the latest they’ve ever seen.

He realized that at the start of this summer after returning from a weeks-long trip.

“I knew empirically I knew we were going to be late,” Haas said. “It was still a surprise when I got back here after being gone for three and a half weeks, just how far behind we were. It looked like it normally does in June, it doesn't look like it normally does at the end of July — and a lot of that's driven by climate change.”

Like many other Central Coast vineyards, Tablas Creek will likely see a much later harvest than usual this year after this winter's heavy rainfall.
Jordan Triebel
Like many other Central Coast vineyards, Tablas Creek will likely see a much later harvest than usual this year after this winter's heavy rainfall.

Harvest season has started around late July or early August in the past few years. But Haas said this year, it could be a few months later than normal, possibly going into November.

While the grapevines themselves weren’t harmed, Haas said it’s still been a challenge to deal with all the vegetation growth from the wet winter.

“We had our flock of sheep come through here three different times this winter,” Haas said. “Once the vines started sprouting, we had to mow this twice. So we've had to [mow] five different times. I don't think in terms of the soil that the grapevines have to deal with, it’s just been more work to keep things tidy.”

Daniel Rodrigues is a Cal Poly wine and viticulture lecturer who’s been in the industry for almost 40 years now. He’s studied grape harvests from the Santa Barbara County mountains all the way up to Sonoma County in Northern California.

He said this winter’s heavy rains disrupted many vineyards and put them behind schedule.

“What it also did was it created some other things that we had to overcome this season,” Rodrigues said. “One of the major things that we had a tremendous canopy growth that happened very quickly.”

Canopy growth is when the vines grow and connect to create shade for the roots and the trunk to cool down. That makes it able to absorb the water in the soil. Rodrigues said when the leaves start to form like this, it acts as an umbrella for the wine grapes.

“This allowed us to get into the field to do any fungicide applications.” Rodrigues said. “The preventative fungicides that we needed to apply that put us behind. We had an outbreak of mildew that [were] probably some of the earliest infections I've had in my career and we're still fighting it.”

A main concern this year is whether vineyard workers will have enough time to harvest all the grapes. Once harvest season starts, the clock is ticking before the plants start preparing for the next winter season.

Jason Haas is the owner of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles.
Jordan Triebel
Jason Haas is the owner of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles.

“[Harvest season] is definitely going to [end in] December,” Rodrigues said. “My concern at that time with it being so late is we're going to potentially [get] winter frost, which basically just freezes the grape and we can get some rainfall coming in. I just hate to be pessimistic, but that's how I survived in this business is by planning for the worst and everything works out that way.”

Because of this, Rodrigues said vineyard owners across the Central Coast, like Jason Haas, are going to have to accommodate for the increased workload.

“It's not going to be an easy one,” Rodrigues said. “Like Jason said, he's got staffing problems. That's no different than the guys in the field. We have to staff harvesters [and] we have to staff people that are running gondolas. There's only 24 hours in a day, and they’ve got to sleep 12 hours.”

Haas worries his harvest might not be finished until Thanksgiving.

“We'll start in the middle of September and finish in the middle of November,” Haas said. “I'm hoping that we're done early enough that it doesn't challenge Thanksgiving. The impact is not that the rain that we got last year is gonna be a problem, but the rain that we got last year. [The challenge] will be that with everything, we might end up in next winter's rainy season before the latest ripening grapes are ready.”

Though this winter was more intense than expected, Haas said he’s lucky that his plants appear to be healthy. The green hills this spring brought in major growth for crops that both Haas and Rodrigues see in their fields.

Despite the unusual weather, Haas said thankfully, the storm wasn’t anything the local wine industry couldn’t handle.

“The negative issues of all the rain that we got last winter were temporary, kind of intense and localized,” Haas said. “We had to be closed for a few days [and] roads were washed out. But the benefits of that, particularly after three dry years in a row, had really started to impact the vigor of vines. I think the positive impact of that [is] going to be significant and long lasting.”

Jordan Triebel is an intern at KCBX starting June 2023. She is currently an undergraduate at Cal Poly getting a BS in Journalism and minoring in Media Arts, Society, and technology. During her time at Cal Poly, she is the News Director of KCPR Radio, anchoring newscasts, and hosting her own music show once a week. Outside of work, she likes traveling, reading, writing, and working on her own video passion projects.
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