Shoots on some grapevines in the Lodi, Calif., area have pushed out several inches after buds began opening a week to 10 days earlier, reports Stuart Spencer, program manager for the Lodi Winegrape Commission.

“That’s consistent with where the vines were this time last year,” he says. “Historically, bud break here is around March 15. We were within a week of that this year.”

Dry weather in January, February and March left the soil profile fairly dry as April began, he notes. Still, he hadn’t observed any dormant irrigation this winter, attributing that to rains in November and December that soaked deep into the soil.  Some rain at the end of March and the start of April added a little moisture to the total. Recently, several forecasted rains have come up short on actual precipitation amounts, Spencer adds.

“We’ll have to see how the weather progresses this spring,” he says. “When the ground is pretty dry, it can pose some challenges for growers.”

Like many wine grape growers elsewhere in California, those in the Lodi area are starting this season following a big crop and healthy prices last year and with supply and demand fairly well in balance.

“Much of the 2012 crop helped fill a grape shortage, and now growers are looking forward to a decent crop this year and continued strong prices for their grapes,” Spencer says.

Vineyard development in the Lodi area has picked up as growers replaced old vines and planted new ground. Spencer expects that to continue this year, as well.

Lodi wine country extends from south of Sacramento between the San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta, on the west, and the Sierra Nevada foothills, on the east, nearly to Stockton.

The area is home to about 750 growers who farm about 100,000 acres of vineyards. They grow more than 60 commercial varieties of wine grapes and lead the state in production of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot grapes, Spencer notes.

Historically, Lodi was known for producing grapes that were made into wine elsewhere, including the North Coast region.  But, the character of the Lodi wine grape industry is changing as growers find more local buyers for their grapes. “Winery construction has really taken off in the last 10 years, accompanied by smaller-volume production of higher quality wines and attracting more and more tourists all the time,” Spencer says.

This plus an aggressive marketing campaign, which the Lodi Winegrape Commission launched in 2011, has focused new attention on the region by the wine press and wine consumers.

The program is “designed to tell the story of Lodi growers and their commitment to growing high-quality wine grapes.” Spencer says. “It’s working successfully to raise the profile of this region.”

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