I’d have to say that the number one question I’m getting right now in the tasting room is, “So what does all this rain mean for the vineyards?” With over 80 inches of the stuff this last winter, I wish I really knew what it all means.
I can certainly give you things I have noticed from empirical data. The first would be that the weeds (excuse me, I “meant” cover crop) just keep growing and growing and growing. And every time we finish mowing, it rains again for another generation of these guys!
I’ve also noticed that although our vines budded out normally (in mid-April), the post cooler cloudier weather has actually put them behind a bit. We’re in the latter part of May, and some vines still only have a few inches of growth. (Still, it’s amazing how a few warm days it takes for a vine to catch up!) We’ll see when we flower, and then we’ll know more.
If, however, I were asked to prognosticate as to what all this rain will mean for the grapes this year, this is what I would say. “It’s going to be a good crop!”
Now, first remember that wineries, no matter what they are talking about, are always thinking about marketing. Accentuate the positive and glaze over the challenges.
But if I think about it, I actually believe that the vines are “smarter” than we give them credit. (Or perhaps more instinctual.) If we look back to the 2015 vintage, the crop yields across California’s vineyards were down 20-30%. For most of us farmers, we didn’t really have a clue as to why.
I had the chance to attend a seminar in Paso Robles, though, that made a lot of sense to me. It suggested that the timing of what little rain we had in 2015 had a major impact on the grape harvest. If you remember back to that year, we were in the thick of the drought, and most of our rain came early in the season. Or rather, we had little rain in the spring.
What this meant for the vines was a lack of water in the soil profile when the vines started to push their buds. My thought is that the vines “knew” there wasn’t much water available and so they naturally reduced their crop loads. Not enough resources, cut back on what you do! It makes total sense. (In hindsight, we all should have irrigated the vineyards in spring (something we’ve never done before) to help spur the vines along.
So getting back to the question of, “What does all this rain really mean?” Well, I think the vines are going to throw a great crop this year. Not only are they thinking of this year (with the plentiful water in the soil), but I bet they are itching to set a big crop having just come out of the drought years. And if a vine’s sole purpose (in its mind) is to proliferate, then a year with abundant moisture might give those little vines the extra push they need.
Truly, I’m not a grapevine and only time will tell. And of course, I’m not talking about quality, just quantity. If the vine sets a great crop, it will be our job to balance it out to get the quality. But let’s start with the quantity first as it’s always easier to drop crop than glue grapes on the vine!