So here we are again, standing at the precipice of another vintage. The next 6-7 months will shape our fruit for this year. What the year will bring is anyone’s guess. So far it seems to be moving along early as we had almost two lovely weeks in the upper 60’s and 70s in early February which has caused all the cherry trees to bloom and the weeping to begin for the vines. Many people are still working on finishing pruning, including me. This week has been the grab bag of weather from beautiful sun to torrential rain to snow in some lower elevations of CA, a most unusual occurrence. The drastic cold after such a time of warmth is a cause for concern for all growers. As the vines begin to shed their protection from the cold and buds begin to swell this year’s crop is now in harms way even before it has been set on the vine.
Each grapevine bud has three small shoots inside. The largest of which is called the primary bud and it is this bud that growers seek to protect as it will yield the highest quality fruit. Primary buds are the first to leaf out in the spring making them extremely susceptible to frost, wind, and hail. Should something happen to the primary bud the vine does have a back up; the aptly named Secondary bud. This bud can also produce fruit but not as much as the primary bud and it also takes longer to fully mature the fruit as it will get a later start than the primary bud. In the horrible circumstance that both the Primary and Secondary buds get taken out there is another bud. Yes, you guessed it…the Tertiary bud. This bud is purely a survival mechanism so the vine can still photosynthesize (produce food). It generally does not produce fruit and is very far behind in development when compared to the first two.
Long story short, growers want to do everything possible to maintain the health of the primary bud. These buds have already leafed out down in Santa Barbara where the danger of frost is being battled through overhead sprinkler systems which allows the water to freeze around the new, tiny leaves and through the magic of enthalpy (Yes, get out your high school chemistry books!) the energy, released as heat as the water freezes, warms the leaves just enough to keep them protected from the frost. It also makes for some very pretty pictures with dripping icicles and encased bright green leaves. Now we are at that critical period of bud break and what happens between now and bloom can have dramatic effects on the amount of potential crop and the timing of bloom.
As we’re hopeful for a good season with low frost risk and smooth sailing we, as growers and winemakers, know that it is likely to be another crazy year just like the previous few have been.
That being said I’ve got to give a shout out to the Alexander Valley Winemaker/ Vineyard Manager Pruning team who took first place at the Sonoma County Pruning Contest in that category for the second year in a row!!! My Vineyard Manager, John, and I participated on this team today and we’re pretty proud of our streak!