AMADOR COUNTY (CBS13) — For the second-straight year, they’re picking grapes as fast as they can as the California drought is forcing another early harvest for wine makers.

Vineyards bustled with workers across Amador County on Friday as many scrambled to harvest grapes that were ready weeks before they should be.

“This was the earliest harvest I’ve ever had in the wine industry,” said Chris Leamy.

He says workers started picking fruit at the winery’s Santa Barbara location in late July, and it’s been busy for Terra D’Oro there and in Plymouth.

Wineries from Napa to the Sierra foothills and south from Lodi to Santa Barbara have all reported earlier than normal harvests, with most starting in late July.

It’s not just an issue of the grapes ripening early. Many wineries say the picking window has only been three to seven days instead of the normal month.

Vineyards say the drought is partly to blame, as well as an early harvest in 2014 caused by the drought, and an accelerated budbreak which marks the beginning of the vine’s lifecycle.

However, Leamy says the accelerated season is good news for the flavor of this year’s wine.

“Smaller crops can mean more concentration and higher quality,” he said. “Things look very promising, I think it’s going to be a very, very good year.”

In fact an early harvest means a ripe level of sugars, and the grapes retain more acid, giving the wine the potential for a richer, more elegant flavor.

The downside is fewer grapes. Leamy expects to see crop yields drop by 15 to 20 percent, though he doesn’t anticipate the drop affecting the company’s bottom line.

“It’s always a challenge when you have less wine to sell, but if the quality’s there I think it will work out just fine,” he said.

That’s the consensus at vineyards across Northern California. But if the drought continues, they expect early harvests to become the new normal.

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