Joe’s Winemaking Notes: March 2018

VINEYARD UPDATE
Our rainfall is totaled each year, from July first to the following June 30 (the official rain “year”); but, most of this rain comes down from mid-October through the end of March. With only one good rain month ahead in 2018, the amount currently received is below 50 percent of a normal year, and only 23 percent of the totals from last year. It’s a pretty dramatic difference. On March 1, 2017, rainfall totals were 58.75 inches; while on March 1, 2018, we stand at 13.96 inches. This is a drop of almost 45 inches from one year to the next!

Is this an off-year, or a return to drought conditions experienced from 2012 to 2016? Stay tuned for details. We’re remaining hopeful that more rain will be falling in March. Many of our grape-growing partners in Sonoma County see their yields dramatically reduced during dry years.

Keeping a positive light on the upcoming year, we’re fortunate to be able to farm the vines at our estate vineyards, with almost no irrigation. This leaves us in better shape than many grape growing regions of California. Other than the applications of compost tea in early spring, and a few irrigations post-harvest, to encourage root growth in the vines, we can grow amazing grapes with very little water. Our vines have been encouraged to grow deep roots, and will utilize the deep moisture reserves in our Goldridge soils, creating very hardy vines.

Another positive sign, as we reached the end of the month, is that the rainstorm that blew through on February 25 and 26 seems to have opened the way for additional storms. A more typical pattern of fronts is lined up to push across Sonoma County in early March. A wet month ahead would do a great deal to alleviate our concerns of a looming drought!

VINES TO AWAKEN
Fortunately, along with dry conditions, we also experienced fairly cold nighttime temperatures. Why, as a grape grower, would we consider this “fortunate?” The answer relates to the link between soil temperatures and bud break. Cold nights do a good job of countering the warmth provided by the sunny days, and keep the vines’ roots in a dormant state further into spring.

The advantage of cold soil temperatures, and the resulting delay in bud break, means that it shortens our exposure to damaging frosts. We often see morning temperatures reach down to the low 30s in March and April (and even as late as mid-May). This requires us to babysit the young buds and shoots, protecting them from damage. On potential frosty nights, someone from our team will be “on call,” and drive to the vineyard in the middle of the night, when the phone rings and alerts us to dropping temperatures. Once at the winery, it’s necessary to turn on frost protection pumps, if a frost is imminent. This can be a nightly vigil, in challenging years!

Currently, we’re seeing a small amount of sap flowing from pruning wounds on the vine, suggesting bud break will be very soon. Bud break and shoot growth correlate very well to temperatures of our Goldridge soil. The probes we have installed in the vineyard can measure soil temperature down to 48 inches below the surface, in addition to soil moisture. Over four weeks in late January and early February (when temperatures were unseasonably warm), we saw temperatures near the surface roots increase by over five degrees Fahrenheit, triggering the grapevines’ alarm clocks and waking them up for spring. At the winery, we were glad to see colder temperatures return, in the last half of the month.

The advantage of cold soil temperatures, and the resulting delay in bud break, means that it shortens our exposure to damaging frosts. We often see morning temperatures reach down to the low 30s in March and April (and even as late as mid-May). This requires us to babysit the young buds and shoots, protecting them from damage. On potential frosty nights, someone from our team will be “on call,” and drive to the vineyard in the middle of the night, when the phone rings and alerts us to dropping temperatures. Once at the winery, it’s necessary to turn on frost protection pumps, if a frost is imminent. This can be a nightly vigil, in challenging years!

Cheers!