We weren't sure what to expect after two record harvests in 2012 and 2013, and many winegrowers predicted low yields in 2014. That's because typically after a big harvest, vines are less productive the following year as they restore their energy. So after two big harvests back-to-back we were certainly due for a down year.
Another reason there was pessimism surrounding the '14 growing season was the severe drought in California. With virtually no significant rainfall last winter, water levels in Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma -- which provide most of the water for Sonoma County -- were down by 50%.
For farmers in frost prone areas where overhead frost protection systems rely on water, there was a real concern that water levels might be too low to effectively combat any potential frost. Compounding matters were government mandated water restrictions during the growing season that set limits on water usage for vineyards.
Fortunately there wasn't much frost in Sonoma County in 2014 and little need for overhead irrigation. And the government water restrictions were manageable because of a mild summer with no heat spikes that may have called for heavy watering.
Here at Collier Falls frost is seldom an issue for us because of our elevated hillside vineyards, which allows the cold weather to roll downhill and settle at the lowest point on the valley floor. Also, we're usually safe from heat spikes because our southeast exposure gives us shade in the late afternoon while other vineyards are still in full sun.
The weather in 2014 gave us an unexpected bonus with a late spring rain that did not negatively impact bud break or fruit set, but instead provided the early vine growth with a boost that helped to jumpstart the growing season.
Overall, the summer of 2014 was nearly perfect with no heat spikes or cold spells, and the spring predictions of an early harvest proved correct. At Collier Falls we were about two weeks ahead of our usual schedule. There was a little rainfall in early October that was potentially problematic as a cause of mildew on the clusters, but sunny and windy days followed the rain and effectively reduced that threat.
However, the grapevines throughout Sonoma County did react in a peculiar way this year, because at harvest, wineries were bringing in typically early fruit like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at the same time they were bringing in bigger red wines like Zinfandel and Cabernet. This occurred throughout the valley, and winegrowers had no real explanation for the strange ripening times.
Ultimately, while yields were down slightly from last year's record levels, the harvest was still above average, providing wineries with a third consecutive banner harvest in both quantity and quality.