A little whining about the paucity of rain in our diary post last month seemed to do the trick: it was followed by fairly heavy rain in March and continued periodic rain here in April. This is definitely good for the region as a whole, and though not as helpful to Northern California water supplies as rain earlier in the season that is more likely to be stored in the Sierras as snow, there are not too many in the agricultural community complaining. We remain light in overall rainfall for the season, but certainly the soil water profile has been significantly replenished by the late rains, and we should be able to follow a more normal irrigation pattern.
At Shaker Ridge, winter pruning was finished on time in early March, and we managed to thread in our weed control treatments within the rows between rains. We’re calling the arrival of budburst in many of our earlier-pushing varietals—barbera, touriga nacional, tinta cao, and tinta amarela– as Easter, April 8. Tempranillo, primitivo, and souzao are still mostly dormant. We had seemed primed for an earlier start, but cloud cover from the March rains and generally cool temperatures kept the vines at bay. In fact, we experienced our typical once-annual snow fall on March 18, with just a dusting that had melted by noon. The later budburst was fortuitous actually, since we got temperatures close to freezing last week, and had the vines already pushed, there likely would have been pockets of frost damage.
The timing of budburst is noteworthy, because we called budburst in most of the aforementioned early varietals as April 6 in 2011–an historically late season. This would suggest the possibility of yet another late harvest season, though weather patterns downstream of budburst (including those affecting the length of time until flowering) are relevant in the final outcome. Significantly, our barbera did not push until about 2 weeks later last year, which we later realized was due to frost damage suffered by many of the primary buds just prior to overt full opening. Thus, we’re glad to see the barbera safely out of the gates at an earlier date than last year. The key now will be avoiding frost going forward, which of course is almost 100% out of our control!
We still have availability of all of our grape varietals, but preseason orders have been steady, and we would encourage those wishing to secure grape supply for 2012 to act early. We are looking forward to the coming wine judging season and the 2012 vintage.