New World rises to the challenge of Europe's poor wine harvest

By Leslie Gevirtz

NEW YORK, Oct 9 (Reuters) - North American winemakers arehaving a near perfect harvest this year in stark contrast totheir European counterparts, who have suffered from bad timingand worse weather.

In Portugal some vineyards are reporting yields down 40percent and in parts of Burgundy in France hail storms havedestroyed nearly 80 percent of the harvest.

But in California's Napa Valley, after three years of belowaverage temperatures and inopportune rain, winemakers areenjoying a banner year.

"Neither too early, nor too late; neither too hot, nor toocold, 2012 looks to be the 'Goldilocks' vintage, whereeverything is just right," said Christopher Howell, generalmanager of Cain Vineyard and Winery, referring to the story bookcharacter.

The good fortune is not limited to Californians. Winemakersin Oregon, Washington, New York state and Canada are alsoexcited by this year's harvest.

Josie Tyabji, head of the British Columbia Wine Institute inCanada, said it has "come in right on time," and although it isa bit earlier than normal in Oregon's Willamette Valley,winemaker Luisa Ponzi says she has no complaints.

"We've been blessed with quite a bit of sun," said Ponzi,who trained in Burgundy and is the winemaker for her family'swinery.

Although there were some concerns in Washington state thatthe harvest would be tainted by wildfires in September, testshave shown nothing wrong.

The white wines are halfway done and much of the Merlot ishalfway picked, according to Kari Leitch, of Washington'sChateau Ste. Michelle Wines Estate, where the vintage is shapingup to be one of its best.


Conditions were similar at the opposite end of the countryin New York's wine-growing regions. The Hudson-Chatham winerynorth of New York City reported that its harvest of Seyval Blancwas well under way. It also expected good yields for their othervarietals including Vidal Blanc and DeChaunac.

Richard Olsen-Harbich, of the Bedell Cellars on LongIsland's North Fork, said he was harvesting a week or two early.

"Guess that's the new normal," he said, adding that hiswines are similar to those produced in France and Italy.

Despite the shortage of European wines, prices globally areexpected to remain little changed, except for some top levelBordeaux and Burgundies.

"The market for wine is global," said David Jaeger, a memberof the American Association of Wine Economists, "so there ispressure on the Old World producers, even in tough years, tokeep their prices roughly in line with the global market, withthe possible exception of Premier Crus in Bordeaux and some inBurgundy.

"Most vintners will claim that their wines are a uniqueexpression of their terroir, but consumers can likely findpretty close New World substitutes to most wines produced inEurope," he added. (Terroir refers to the local conditions thatgive a wine its unique characteristics.)

Rob Sands, the chief executive of Constellation Brands, which produces Robert Mondavi, Kim Crawford,Inniskillin and Ravenswood wines among many others, said he isseeing little or no movement on lower-priced wines.

(Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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