Spring is clearly in the air, but the situation has gone from bad to worse in terms of winter rains in the California Foothills, if not in most of CA wine country. We’ve previously reported on the paltry rains in the new year through mid-February, and there has been little incremental rain now through mid-March. In fact, it’s been an historically dry period for what should be the wettest time of the year, turning an above-average wet season into a distinctly below-average wet season, albeit not absymal. Fortunately, a reasonably strong storm system will move in during the next two days, though it appears to be a one-off event, with fair weather to follow. Already, we’ve seen a streak of beautiful spring days in the 70s, and our earliest pushing varieties, such as tinta cao and barbera, are on the verge of budburst but not quite there as of this writing. This will definitely be the earliest budburst in our vineyard in a few years, but a pretty average timing overall.
In truth, none of this farmer whining about low rainfall amounts to any catastrophe for Foothills grape growers who are not, unlike counterparts in the Central Valley, heavily reliant on fixed allocations of water from the delta and elsewhere. At Shaker Ridge we have a highly productive well, and the dried out condition that we’re already seeing in the topsoil merely means a) that the deeper-rooted perennial grapevines will have an advantage over shallow-rooted annual weeds; 2) we will likely be able to limit early vegetative growth, since the vines should chew through the ground water relatively quickly, at which point we will be able to control water allocation for the balance of the season. Those are positives. The main negative will be the likely need (and cost) of irrigating earlier in the season than usual, putting pressure on groundwater supplies.
In the vineyard, we have completed winter pruning exactly a week before the end of winter itself, and are mulching in the clippings and applying our single spray of the year for weeds in the vineyard rows. The vine rows were in decent shape anyway thanks to grazing by our older alpacas. The alpacas will now be confined to other pastures, since the young grapevine shoots would prove too tempting a treat. Meanwhile, the calls of wild turkeys can be heard echoing through the nearby woods, and the occasional small flock, including dancing toms, can be seen traversing the vineyard.
At the risk of sounding alarmist, all signs point to another year of strong out-of-county demand for quality Foothills grapes, so if you are pretty sure you want to make wine this fall, you would do well to secure supply sooner vs. later, no matter where you buy your grapes. Enough said.