Though pruning crews have been out in the California North Coast's prized vineyards since early this year prepping the plants, it's at the first signs of new growth that the new growing season begins. And local growers Monday said "bud break" is upon us in the warmer areas of the region.
Growers often say that the outcome of the previous harvest sets the vines up physiologically for the next harvest. The official tally of the 2018 harvest is still a month away, but the North Coast haul is expected to be larger than 2017. The value of the North Coast wine grape harvest that year was $1.5 million.
“Buds on chardonnay in the Carneros AVA are swelling and bursting,” said Brittany Pederson, viticulturist at Renteria Vineyard Management, in Napa Valley Grapegrowers' announcement of the new season that quotes several members of the trade group. “These are the first signs of bud break. In the weeks to come, when the weather gets consistently warmer, the sap will start flowing and the vines will be woken up. Bud break will really start to take off then.”
This early stage of the season is about a week and a half behind the pace last year because of the winter rains, according to Allison Cellini Wilson, viticulturist at Cliff Lede Vineyards. The valley received an average of 35 inches of rain between November and February, the association said.
“The soils have already absorbed all the water from the winter rains. We’re not seeing any stagnant water remaining out in the vineyards, which means our soils needed the saturation,” Cellini Wilson said.
The trade group noted that the springtime temperatures and ample water that have moved the grapevines to this point also have spurred growth and blooming of mustard and other vineyard cover crops.
“The cover crop has grown in well and is looking very healthy," Pederson said. "Right now, we’re in the vineyards preparing for the 2019 growing season, which includes cover-crop management, tracking nighttime temperatures for frost potential, and wrapping up pruning.”
Done throughout the first three months of the year, pruning creates vine balance, influencing grape yields and fruit quality, according to the association. Pruners remove 70 to 90 percent of the previous year's growth, leaving select cane or spur positions are left. The skill required for pruning vines that produce high-end wine was shown off during championships in Napa and Sonoma counties last month.
New growth breaks through the remaining buds on the vine, resulting in new growth and the start of the growing season.
“To start the growing season off with full reservoirs and soil profiles is ideal," Cellini Wilson said. "Everything thus far is looking great and we anticipate a busy 2019 growing season.”
Sonoma County farmers have been seeing the first greenery of the new growing season since early March.
“It has roughly been going for a week to 10 days,” John Buchar, who farms 55 acres on his Healdsburg ranch along the Russian River Valley, told Bill Swindell of The Press Democrat on Monday. He noted that pinot noir and chardonnay vineyards in some areas — such as those on hillsides with greater sun exposure — have had their woody vines awaken after being dormant over the winter. Others will need more time over the next weeks.