A cool spring and summer have delayed this year's wine grape harvest, but local growers foresee a good crop.
While the San Joaquin Valley doesn't have the fancy wineries that the Napa Valley boasts, the area is home to the biggest family-owned winery in the world.
E.& J. Gallo Winery, based in Modesto, is not only the biggest -- it's also the largest exporter of California wines.
Greg Coleman, vice president of grower relations for E.&J. Gallo Winery, said the harvest has just begun in the area.
"The season started approximately two weeks later than normal," Coleman said. "Grapes are maturing now, and we are seeing good quality on the early varieties, such as chardonnay, pinot gris and pinot noir."
Sparkling varieties such as chardonnay require less sugar content than other varieties, according to Rich Schaefers, chairman of the Wine and Winegrape Commission. Those varieties are the first to be picked, based on how sweet the juice from the grapes tests.
In Merced County, about 11,300 acres of wine grapes were grown in 2009, for a total value of almost $42 million.
David Robinson, agricultural commissioner for Merced County, said the county can't claim the wineries that other counties have.
"We don't have the premium wine grapes growing here," Robinson said. "It's not because of the quality, it's more about the marketing."
Robinson said certain regions of the state have developed a reputation for premium wines.
"Our higher temperatures have an impact on what can be grown here," he said.
Mariposa County is also starting to emerge as an area that is home to small wineries. In 2009, there were 90 acres of wine grapes in Mariposa County, for a total value of $105,000.
"The invention of drip irrigation really made a difference to Mariposa County vineyards," Robinson said. "You can't run water in furrows, and there isn't enough rainfall to sustain them."
The Old Farmer's Almanac is predicting rain in September, which can cause mildew in grapes. Growers are keeping their fingers crossed that warm fall weather holds on for a while, at least until the grapes are off the vines. For now, though, nobody's got sour grapes.
Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.