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Paso Robles wine experts say current harvest is promising despite drought

Courtesy: Alta Colina
Harvest is underway at Alta Colina vineyards in Paso Robles.

Harvest season for wine grapes in Paso Robles is underway, and locals in the industry say it’s going well despite the persisting impacts of drought.

Wine experts say years of continuing drought and wildfire exacerbated by climate change has impacted grape yield and harvest.

Last year, longer heat waves paired with smoke affected the fruit quality in Paso Robles. Molly Lonborg is the Winemaker at Alta Colina in Paso Robles. She said this year, things are off to a good start.

“Harvest is going full swing right now. It’s going great. We’re having a lot of fun,” Lonborg said. “I think we’re going a little stronger and faster than we did last year.”

Credit Courtesy: Alta Colina

Lonborg said their yield is pretty good right now and their projections suggest they’ll bring in more fruit than they expected. But, she said, a lot of vineyards in Paso Robles are harvesting fewer grapes.

“I think that does kind of tie back into just the drought and water issues,” Lonborg said. “We had such [a] minimal amount of water over the winter through rainfall. I think if people were doing some winter watering, they were able to keep some crop load. But waiting and hoping that rain was going to come, kind of affected some vineyards.”

Kevin Jussila is the founder of kukkula Winery in Paso Robles. He said conditions this year have been fairly moderate, with little to no impact from wildfire smoke and less extreme temperatures.

“We’ve been pretty paranoid, I think, as a group, given how extreme the heat was last year,” Jussila said. “What looked like what was going to be a really easy vintage turned out to be tough. So far, although we’ve had some heat, it’s not been [a] really pervasive heat — a week or two weeks of 100 plus type of temperatures.”

Jussila said barring any big heat waves in the next several weeks, harvesting should continue to go smoothly.

He said he does have concerns moving forward as the effects of climate change continue. Jussila said he considers himself a dry farmer, but on his newer crops he’s decided to add drip lines. He said he believes his wine has a greater intensity of flavor using less water. But with heat and drought, he said the drip lines help ensure quality of the fruit.

Credit Courtesy: Alta Colina

“I think in retrospect, putting drip lines on the plant as an insurance policy, if you believe as I do that climate change is real and it only gets worse, you really need to have some kind of a backup,” Jussila said. 

So what’s the biggest issue this year? Jussila said it’s the labor shortage and staffing. He said they simply haven’t found people to hire for their available positions.

Jussila and Lonborg both said the future is uncertain as far as yearly yields and quality of grapes. But for now, their fingers are crossed.

Rachel Showalter first joined KCBX as an intern from Cal Poly in 2017. During her time in college, she anchored and reported for Mustang News at Cal Poly's radio station, KCPR. After graduating, she took her first job as a Producer at KSBY-TV. She returned to the KCBX team in October 2020, reporting daily for KCBX News until she moved to the Pacific Northwest in July of 2022. Rachel spends her off-days climbing rocks, cooking artichokes and fighting crosswords with friends.
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