winegrapesAs the pick begins in Northern California’s Wine Country, winegrowers reveal what’s behind it: a peculiar year.

Andy Smith, winegrower and co-owner of DuMol Vineyard & Winery in Santa Rosa, said “It’s been a very strange year … the season never settled into a consistent weather pattern.”

On Aug. 19 Smith expects to join the ranks of those harvesting, once he finishes bottling.

Smith said the odd year began when February was warmer than May, giving the vines an early start.

“Because flowering was so poor, it’s going to be a small crop,” Smith said. “The vines have been struggling to find a natural balance between crop load and canopy. They’ve been out of sync. The vines just stopped growing.”

Ryan Zepaltas, of his namesake boutique winery in Santa Rosa, echoed the same sentiment: “2015 was such an unusual year … anecdotally the vines seemed confused.”

People were picking pinot noir in the Russian River Valley during the summer.

“The vines should be fine, but it doesn’t calculate in your mind,” Zepaltas explained. “Wines are supposed to be harvested in the fall. You can’t relax on your summer vacation … Is this the new normal? Who knows?”

In light of this potential “new normal,” what’s most at stake is proper ripening. When a grape is ready to be picked, it should have physiological ripening. This means complete ripeness of tannins, phenolic compounds in the grapes, as well as flavor and aromas.

Physiological ripening is the ultimate goal. But that’s hard to attain when the frenzy of Mother Nature confuses the vines.