Despite California's lingering drought, this year's wine grape harvest was the third-largest ever, at an estimated 3.9 million tons.
That's down 8 percent from last year's record 4.24 million-ton crop, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture data reported Monday by the San Francisco-based Wine Institute. However, it still qualifies as "the third largest on record."
The largest wine-grape crop in the Golden State was 2012's 4.02 million ton tally.
The smallest harvest in the last decade: 2004's, which netted just 2.77 million tons.
The Aug. 24 earthquake that struck downtown Napa and parts of the famed Napa Valley wine-producing region appears to have had little impact on the harvest this year.
The 2014 harvest was also one of the earliest in recent memory, according to the Wine Institute, which represents more than 1,000 California wineries and ancillary businesses. A mild winter and spring — think drought and relatively warm temperatures — and caused an early "bud break," and the harvest began in July for sparkling wine grapes and "started winding down by mid-October for later ripening varieties," the institute reported.
"Wine grapes can withstand drought for several years" and use less water than many other agricultural crops, said Wine Institute spokeswoman Glady Horiuchi. Wine grapes also benefit from a certain amount of stress, such as that caused by low rainfall.
Up to a point, Horiuchi noted, "less is more" in wine-grape growing, and a lower yield in the realm of high-end grapes can result in even higher quality wine.
That said, wine producers in California are taking steps to conserve water, in some cases installing drip watering systems and other technology to reduce water usage and recycle water when possible.
Wine grape growers and wine producers can almost always be counted on to rave about the quality of a harvest, and 2014 is no exception.
"2014 will be noted as one of the earliest vintages in over a decade," said Renee Ary, winemaker at Duckhorn Vineyards in St. Helena, "but it will also go down as one of the best."
Yields and quality at Duckhorn "are above average across all varieties, and I am anticipating a lot of beautiful 2014 wines to come," she said.
In Europe, the wine grape harvests varied significantly by country, with France bouncing back from a tough 2013 while Italian growers faced difficult weather that affected their results, according to a story in The Drinks Business, an online trade publication.