Today is the difficult decision that comes once or twice each decade – whether to harvest in advance of a storm. Those who follow the weather know that typhoon Songda has transitioned into an extratropical cyclone in the north Pacific. This means that a wall of water and heavy wind are headed this way. Rain could start falling in Livermore Valley as early as tonight. So what does this mean?
If your fruit is ready for harvest, then it should be picked today in advance of the storm. However, we are still waiting for a little more ripeness on our Ghielmetti clone 337 cabernet sauvignon. It is the last fruit we still have on the vine. What to do: pick today, or ride out the storm and hope for extra ripening? No education prepares you for this – it is a decision that must be made from experience.
I remember the first week of October, 2009. Here, nearly the same situation presented itself – typhoon Melor had also turned into an extratropical cyclone and was heading towards California. We still had zinfandel on the vine. Though I would have preferred a week of extra ripening, on October 12 I pulled the plug and harvested in advance of the storm. The fruit was entering into our winery as the first drops of rain began.
As it turned out, the call to harvest in 2009 was the right one. The storm of the century slammed into our coast, with nearly two feet of rain falling within 24 hours in the Santa Cruz mountains. Coupled with sustained winds of 80 miles per hour, this was a season ending rain. It was a week before harvest workers could return to the muddy vineyards, and by then it was too late.
So today, at 7AM, I made the decision to hold off harvesting our remaining fruit. Am I crazy? Here is my reasoning – First, under ripe cabernet sauvignon can be vegetal, having aromas of bell pepper and tomato leaves. These flavors are removed in ripening. Second, unlike 2009, I believe the storm pattern will track northward. Yes, we will get rain Friday and Sunday, but the expected winds should dry off the vines. Later next week, unlike 2009, we expect a final warming trend before the advent of fall weather.
Early season cyclone behavior is rare, so there is not a lot historical data to rely on. Of course, there was 2009, but the only one I can remember before that was the Columbus Day storm of 1962, which tracked northward largely impacting Washington and Oregon.
I will know by Tuesday if I made the right decision. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.