What is in this article?:
- On Aug. 23-25, 2010, clusters were damaged by weather conditions that at first seemed to be a typical summer heat spike, but turned out to be quite different.
- High temperatures coupled with low relative humidity provided conditions that caused more fruit damage then in “normal” heat spikes. Not every vineyard had heat damaged fruit, and in those vineyards that did, sunburn and/or desiccation varied considerably.
- There was usually – but not consistently – a clear association of cluster exposure with severity of damage.
Were clusters acclimated prior to the heat?
Clusters are considered acclimated if they are exposed to light sooner than later in the season. Removing leaves shortly after berry set is ideal, and exposing clusters just before veraison should be avoided. In most years, nearly all leaf removal is completed well before berry softening, but greater canopy growth in 2010 presented challenges.
Generally cluster acclimation can protect clusters against normal heat spikes throughout the growing season; however for several hours on August 23-25, temperatures exceeded seasonal norms. Berry temperatures are generally warmer than leaf temperatures, and when ambient temperatures exceed 104°F clusters in direct sunlight for more than 2 to 3 hours will likely experience sunburn even if vines are well irrigated (Larry Williams, personal communication).
Several factors affect berry surface temperature, most importantly wind velocity, solar radiation at the berry surface, and cluster compactness. The surface temperature of fully exposed berries can be more than 18°F greater than ambient under typical mid-summer conditions and some researchers report greater differences. Maximum air temperatures recorded August 24 by all weather stations operated by Western Weather Group (WWG) in Sonoma County ranged from 105° to 114°F.
In summer, vines must remove some of the heat energy they receive from incidence solar radiation. Physical processes allowing vines to remove heat are affected by vine water status and air movement inside the canopy (which affects the extremely small “boundary layer” at the leaf and berry surfaces).
Heat energy is lost from leaves by transpiration which results in evaporative cooling. In transpiration, water passes from the leaf blade through stomates located on the underside of leaves then through the boundary layer just prior to evaporation. Berries have far fewer stomates than leaf blades, and by veraison stomates have lignified and are not functioning.
As maturing berries do not regularly transpire to remove heat, most of the heat absorbed by berries is removed through convection by air movement (Mullins et al. 1992). Compared to leaf blades, minimal water is transpired by clusters especially after veraison, thus in general cluster water loss plays a relatively small role in total vine water use.
Regardless of the small effect water loss from ripening fruit has on the entire vine, water loss from clusters can have significant impacts on fruit weight. Cluster transpiration is affected by both differences in vapor pressure (water vapor concentration) and temperature between the cluster and the air. On August 23 to 25, low relative humidity coupled with high temperatures created a vapor pressure difference between fruit and air to levels rarely experienced in California coastal winegrape-growing regions. Berries exposed to direct light would have had much higher temperatures at times during those dates, further contributing to higher than normal transpiration rates in exposed berries causing berry and rachis desiccation.