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Dry, cool season a boom for grape farmers

Posted: Wednesday, Oct 9th, 2013

John Basor harvests Viognier grapes at his White Road vineyard Tuesday. (Photos by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

WATSONVILLE — Watsonville resident John Basor was busy at his four-acre Basor Terrace Vineyard Tuesday, snipping bunches of viognier grapes into a large bucket.

The task may have been mundane for the grower, who estimates he will ship out 23 tons this year, with more than a ton left on the vines.

But that number was reason enough to keep the job interesting — for the second year in a row, Basor’s crop of gewürztraminer, muscat canneli, viognier and pinot grigio grapes are at record numbers, thanks to the lack of rain and cool weather last spring, which allowed them to remain mildew-free.

“We had an excellent crop,” Basor said.

The weather meant a good harvest for grape growers throughout the state, said Richard Alfaro, winemaker and owner of Alfaro Family Vineyards and Winery.

According to the Santa Cruz County Crop Report, farmers here grew 1,991 tons in 2012, up from the year before when they produced 670 tons. The crop last year was worth $5,375,000.

“We got great quality grapes and a great quantity,” Alfaro said.

Like Basor, Alfaro attributed the successful crop to “Mother Nature.”

“Good weather, no rain, a cool season, not a lot of moisture,” he said. “We love rain but not in the spring or when the grapes are growing.”

Alfaro produces 56 acres of merlot, grüner veltliner, albariño and grenache blanc grapes, using the majority to produce 10,000 cases of wine every year.

“It’s been epic, and there will be a lot of great wine coming out in about a year,” he said.

But the good harvest has had its downside. The volume has meant that the growers haven’t been able to command the kind of prices they get when supplies are lower than demand, Basor said.

Basor called the prices he got for viognier “fair,” but said pino grigio grapes fetched lower prices than they did in 2005.

That’s a worry for the vineyard industry, where labor and other costs can be expensive.

That prompted Basor to graft approximately 450 vines of pino noir, in hopes that the better-selling grapes can help him cover the cost of running the vineyard, which can be as much as $18,000.

“We hope it’ll sell better so that we can at least cover the cost to farm the vineyard,” he said.

Grape growing has run deep throughout Basor’s life. As a young boy he helped his father tend his family vineyards in the Konavle Valley in Croatia, picking by hand and stomping the grapes with his feet the old-fashioned way.

Basor, a retired teacher who still works at Watsonville/Aptos Adult Education, said his family sold some of the wine they produced, and drank the rest.

They would also make grappa, a fermented drink made from the stems and grapes after they are pressed.

Basor’s memories were one of the driving forces when he decided to purchase the vineyard.

He sells his grapes to several vineyards, including Pelican Ranch Winery and Bargetto Winery.

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