Days of record-breaking heat in San Diego County shriveled acres of grapes at many Ramona vineyards this month.
For many local wineries, the loss was severe.
At Pamo Valley Winery, all the Malbec grapes fell victim to the sun. At Hellanback Ranch, Syrah grapes disintegrated. At Principe di Tricase, the Aglianico grapes withered.
The 117 degree heat nearly wiped out the Petite Syrah at Hatfield Creek Vineyard & Winery.
"There's no liquid left in these grapes and they're useless," said Elaine Lyttleton, owner of Hatfield Creek Vineyard. "The Petite Syrah is a very tiny berry and it doesn't have a lot of liquid in it so that heat just dried them out."
Lyttleton described the blistering heat and hot winds as, "kind of like opening a pizza oven. When you opened the front door, it was just a blast furnace."
Growers had plenty of warning the heat was coming, but even careful preparations couldn't withstand 117 degrees.
"We'd been irrigating, but irrigation does not overcome that kind of heat. The vines themselves kind of shut down and they don't take in anymore when it's that hot. So it was brutal," Lyttleton added.
At Cactus Star Vineyard, the heat destroyed the entire Malbec crop and fried 80% of the Petit Verdot grapes.
"In the 17 years of growing, I have never had this kind of loss," said Joe Cullen, owner of Cactus Star Vineyard.
Cullen said the heat was relentless, and even the grapes that were in a canopy and not exposed directly to the sun looked as if they had "baked in an oven."
If those temperatures had hit just a few weeks later, the many of grapes would have been more developed and better able to withstand the heat.
Some varietals did survive.
Most of the Nebbiolo grapes at Principe di Tricase Winery were undamaged, and the proprietors sprayed Kaolin clay on the remaining crops in an effort to possibly help protect the grapes from further damage.
Cullen said most of his Tempranillo grapes were unaffected by the heat, and the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were only slightly burned.
Zinfandel grapes at Hatfield Creek were spared because the berries are larger and they contain more moisture.
"We were expecting about 10 tons of Petite Syrah out of this vineyard this year," said Lyttleton. "And I think we'll be lucky to get four tons, which will make a couple of barrels."
Lyttleton said she may have to buy grapes from other vineyards to compensate for the crop damage.
Others may produce smaller batches. "We'll just make wine with what grapes we get," said Cullen.
The financial loss is tough to absorb for these small wineries, many of which only produce a few hundred cases in a good year.
"We had a bumper crop last year which maybe alleviates some of the pain this year, but it's still discouraging," said Lyttleton.
Winemakers said the best way to help is to visit Ramona wineries and buy their wine.
The Ramona Valley Vineyard Association has a map of many of the tasting rooms in the area.