The Spring of 2012 – June 5, 2012

As I drove into the vineyards this morning at just before 6am, the sun was peeking through some light, billowing clouds. It wasn’t until I opened the door to let Jake, our dog, run that crisp, nay…cold air hit my lungs. It’s June 5th, and the temperature is 39° F. outside!

Is this a damaging cold? No, but we are about 25% (on average) into flowering in the vineyards, and all we really want is a nice, constant 72°-80°. Is that asking too much?

Farmers, as you must already know, are never really happy with the weather. It’s either too cold or too hot, too wet or too dry. We seem to be a “lot” of people who constantly, annually and perennially believe that the grass is always greener in our dream world weather than the weather we are actually given. Ironically, I can’t tell you exactly what the impact of today’s cold is going to be, but I still wish it were warmer.

In all actuality, the 2012 spring has been the most glorious of all springs. The vines budded right on time in mid-April, and they never looked back. The temperatures in the vineyard from that point on were almost balmy (if you take the last several years as any sort of “normal”), and not once did we turn on our frost protection system. In fact it never got cold enough to worry about it!

The weather continued to be dry and warm, and the vines thrived, growing three feet of canes in a month. And with the wonderful weather, we could work in the vineyards every day, keeping up with the vine growth.

Having had two short vintages in 2010 and 2011, the entire state of California is looking for a great harvest in 2012. The state’s bulk market (excess wine sold from winery to another making many of the $10 and under wines on the supermarket shelf) has dried up, pushing prices of grapes even higher. This in turn can eventually drive all wine prices up in the future. So the ideal spring was welcomed by growers everywhere as the harbinger of a very successful year.

But alas we farmers are intertwined with the lifecycle of our vines. First the vines bud. The second important and susceptible stage is flower. The third is veraison (where the berries turn color and soften), and the fourth is harvest. (This is an over simplification of the 23 stages of the vine, but nonetheless kind of sums up the major events in the growing season of the vine.)

And that brings us back to today, stage two, with flowers on the vine. The ½-inch of rain last week (pre-flower) undoubtedly gave the vines a little boost, but yesterday’s 0.8 inches of rain certainly didn’t help. Varieties like Merlot and Malbec are particularly susceptible to “shatter,” where a full bunch of flowers only yields a few multi-sized grapes on the cluster, and rain is the main cause.

Still, we must just wait and see. Within a week we’ll have a much better idea of any damage, and frosts (of which we had none) in early budding springs are far more destructive than rain and cool temperatures during flower.

If I had to guess right now (even as I notice it’s starting to sprinkle once again outside) what kind of year it’s going to be, I still think 2012 is going to be fantastic. The vines look loaded with potential flowers/grapes, and even if we lose a few due to weather, there will be plenty to harvest come October.

But a little insurance with dry, warm weather tomorrow (and the next two weeks) would sure be nice. Who knows? Maybe my dream world will be reality from now on. Of course then farmers will complain that it’s too perfect!

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