We have slowly watched spring awakening across the Napa Valley in the last month or so. The acacia trees started their bloom last month along with full blooms of mustard throughout the vineyards. The site of acacia’s blooming signals to growers that it’s time to prune, and quickly after that the vines are awake again.
Thankfully, our winter began with a heavy amount of rain, followed by a dry period, then another rainfall, leaving us in our current dry state. The first of the rains in December wetted the soil profile but then the warm, record breaking January heated that water in the soil. The soil temperature then rose higher than normal causing the vines to be tricked to start growing sooner than they should.
Waking up from their short winter dormancy we have seen early pruning among the vines, and early bud break across the valley. January was a record dry month for the area, creating this necessity to prune early. Pruning during dry periods actually keeps disease pressure quite low and it is ideal to prune in late January or February. If you prune too early, say December (as some vineyards have been forced to do), you have to protect the cuts with fungicide. It’s better to delay pruning as it is better for disease resistance and can delay bud break.
Early spring and pruning have shown early bud break in certain vineyards in the area. Some bud break has been apparent as early as January this year, when March is more typical. When pruning and the “wounds” start to bleed natural sap this is an indication that the vine is already active.
Luckily, local growers are all used to inconsistent growing seasons, keeping them on their toes, and allowing them to use techniques learned along the way to keep up with whatever the season and soils throw their way.
One thing farmers will have to keep an eye on with early spring is nighttime low temperatures. If necessary, they will need to mow cover crops to ground level to allow the sun to warm the vineyard floor during the day. This will help keep cold air away from buds during the early morning hours, therefore assisting with frost protection, which is the biggest concern with an early spring.
Growers just have to continue to stay flexible and follow the weather, soil and vine needs. Meteor Vineyard, being a producer of only Cabernet, does not always see these same issues. We may be a week or two ahead of last year but we did not have to prune or see bud break a month ahead of time as in other places across the region.
We are always ready and excited for all the challenges the growing season begins and we are looking forward to 2015!