This morning I woke up to the sound of sprinklers running in the vineyard. Our frost protection was on for the first time in 2011!
It's unusual for us to survive the entire month of March without frost. By this time last year we had already turned on the frost protection seven times. I'd like to say we've had an easy spring so far, but before budbreak even started we had frost, hail, floods and snow. We lost electricity for two days, and Highway 128 was closed twice! So, even though those events happened while the vines were dormant (and therefore mostly immune to weather events), there was still plenty of worrying over the property, culverts, road conditions, and the like.
A lot of people ask me about frost protection and water use. Here's the scoop: here in Anderson Valley, very few vineyards have the right to pump from the river. Most of us have off-stream ponds, meaning that all we do is collect winter runoff and rain water, then we use it throughout the year. When it runs out, it runs out.
When we turn on frost protection in the spring, the vines barely have even an inch or two of growth (less now). They're using very little water, especially since it's still raining and the ground's completely saturated. So, the vast majority of water put out in the vineyard ends up right back in the water table.
Many vineyards also now have drains in low-lying areas. These can collect water when running frost protection and funnel it right back into the pond, where it can be reused.
The reality is, in cold areas of the valley, if you don't frost protect, you likely don't have a crop. Vineyards aren't immune to this, but either are apples, oranges, and most other fruits.
A few more frost nights are imminent, but then on to another storm. Hopefully it will be a light frost year. Most likely, given history, it will just frost later in the season to make up for our wet March. :)