|New buds in April|
As is common knowledge, we are in a drought in California. As I write this we have received approximately half our average rainfall, and thank god for that. In January, before the big storms arrived, we sat down as a family and seriously discussed what we would do it there was no grape harvest this year. For my parents, as growers, it would be disastrous. At the winery we have enough inventory in bottled-but-not-yet-released or library wines to probably eek through. We would have to skew our 2014 harvest toward quick-releasing wines that we could bottle soon and release soon, and our wine club would be the priority. Luckily, we no longer have to make those decisions.
To attempt to maintain a crop under drought conditions, we did many things differently this year. First, we pruned late to postpone frost season as long as we could. We pruned right before the vines went into budbreak, where the new leaves emerge. This gave us a few weeks of rest. We also attempted to facilitate the movement of cold air about the property. Keeping things mowed and eliminating natural air dams helps cold air to (hopefully) move past the vines.
Another big change the valley this year is the addition of wind machines, much to the chagrin of many in the community (and myself, on many occasions). They're loud, although local growers are trying to tweak that by reducing fan speed and turning them on for shorter periods of time. However, in a drought, they're the single best option for frost protecting when you don't have water or don't want to use scarce water resources for frost season. Luckily, most are rented for the season and we hope for ample rainfall next season so they can be returned to their rightful owners!
So far this season, we've had to frost protect for nine nights, meaning that it has been a mild spring for us. And we hope for more of the same into May and early June.
One issue that we've noticed this year was actually caused by extremely cold weather in December 2013. In early December, NorCal experienced a cold snap. Here at the winery we had four nights of lows ranging from 11 degrees to 14 degrees. Our winery walls were frozen solid, and we had to use industrial heaters to thaw the (thankfully plastic) water pipes so we could open the tasting room with a working bathroom. We lost plants all over the property, including a giant cactus, which tends to be pretty cold-hardy.
This cold snap effected the vines too. We're seeing vascular damage in the vineyard, which essentially means that the cells froze inside the plant. We've been trying to beef them up with natural minerals and other "grapevine vitamins," but we're certainly seeing that they're a little behind, growth-wise, where they would normally be. How this will play out throughout the season we'll have to wait and see. Luckily, my parents are in the vineyard so often they noticed the issue early on, so we've had some time to address it.
Overall, we made an early prediction that we hoped to ripen 75-80% of a regular crop. Pruning late does push harvest later, so let's all hope for a dry fall (until November hits, then rain baby rain).