Carson Smith standing in a Muscat Alexandria block, two years after planting on Freedom rootstock. The vines are planted on a 10-foot row spacing with the vines 6-feet apart within the rows. The cover crop is a blend of bell beans, Dundale peas, common vetch and Cayuse oats.
As wine grape grower Carson Smith sees things, a third consecutive record-size crush this year looks doubtful.
The 2013 season marked the second year in a row that California’s wine grape growers set a new production record – nearly 4.7 million tons. That’s 7 percent higher than the previous high of close to 4.4 million tons in 2012.
“With the current drought situation, I don’t expect another big crop this year since some San Joaquin Valley vineyards face a very limited water supply and limited options,” he says. “However, with all of the recent new plantings in the state, 4 million tons may be the new normal.”
Smith expects to get his first glimpse of the size of his 2014 crop following bloom, which usually occurs in early May. Towards the end of May, he’ll get a better perspective on his crop’s production potential when he’ll be able to see how many of the clusters have actually set berries.
Last year, yields of his older vineyards, which include French Colombard planted more than 30 years ago and 16-year-old Ruby Cabernet vines, slipped a little below average. Typically the French Colombard produces around 16 or mores ton per acre range. Last year’s yields were about 8 percent below Smith’s five-year average. His Ruby Cabernet yields were also down 8 percent from their 12-ton-per-acre average.
However, his younger blocks of Chardonnay and Muscat Alexandria, in their second year of production, beat Smith’s pre-season expectations. Chardonnay production was a little over 10 tons per acre while the Muscat yields close to 20 tons per acre, he reports.
All the grapes are grown on contract with wineries. The older blocks are on five-year contracts, while the younger ones were planted on 12-year contracts. “Knowing you have a home for your grapes for the long term gives you some sense of security of earning a return on your investment when establishing a vineyard,” Smith explains.