If Domenick Bianco and other Napa Valley wine grape growers weren’t actually singing in the rain at the end of February, chances are they were humming a different tune than a month earlier.

That’s when Bianco and two other speakers at a Napa Valley Grapegrowers press conference discussed options for managing vineyards in drought conditions this season, after the driest year on record. But, that was before a day or two of rain fell in the area in mid-February followed by five more days of rain two weeks later.

Rainfall the last week of February totaled from around 2 to 3 inches on the Napa Valley floor to 4 inches or more on the hillsides. While long-term forecasts predict continued below-normal precipitation, the wet start to March wasn’t stopping Bianco and other growers from cheering. “We were absolutely giddy,” he says.

 

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Until this month, when Bianco began working with HALL Wines, he had looked after more than 1,300 acres of wine grapes throughout most of Napa County’s appellations for Renteria Vineyard Management.

The wet February weather brought Napa Valley’s total rainfall since last Oct. 1 to about half that for the same period a year earlier, he notes. “Theoretically, we could make up some of the difference by the end of May when our rainy season usually ends,” Bianco says.

After dry weather earlier this winter allowed growers to get a jump on their dormant pruning chores, unseasonably warm temperatures in January pushed bud development off to an unusually early start. That prompted growers to hold off on pruning altogether. In some case, later pruning will delay bud-break, he notes.

By the end of February, bud break in Los Carneros AVA at the southern end of Napa County was running about three weeks ahead of normal. “Were seeing a lot of bud activity in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on the hillsides in Carneros and in some warm valleys, like Pope Valley, where Sauvignon Blanc buds are swelling,” he says. “A lot of vines are still dormant on the Napa Valley floor, but we are seeing bud activity in Bordeaux varieties along the hillsides.”

At the end of the 2013 season, available soil moisture in his vineyards was around 20 percent of full. He expects the recent rains added to those levels, particularly in the valley floors where soils were saturated with water. However, on the benches and higher elevations much less of the rainfall was soaking into the ground, he notes.