Timely rains right before budbreak followed by a quick warm-up of temperatures have pushed the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation wine grape crop off to a fast and promising start. With vine development running about two weeks ahead of normal, the bloom in this area of California’s Central Coast began around the April 20.

That was shortly before an intense storm brought anywhere from about half an inch to an inch of rain to the vineyards, invigorating bloom and cluster set. This was followed by drying winds and record late-April temperatures in the 90s.

By May 1, PCA Prudy Foxx, Foxx Viticulture, Santa Cruz, Calif., was seeing the makings of a great crop.

 

 

“The vineyards look stellar,” she says. “The potential crop looks strong. Growth has been explosive this season. In fact, some vineyards are showing excessive shoot growth and some water sprouts.

“Given the drought, it will be a challenging year. But, if growers are vigilant, pay attention and use their knowledge of grape physiology to manage the canopy and crop load, they’re going to love the results at harvest.”

Currently, one of the top challenges will be managing the recurring threat of early-season botrytis, she notes.

Spring rains, like those that fell on April 25, can encourage establishment of the fungal disease which can cause the rachis to rot and fall off and leaves to brown.  If the crop is in bloom the fungal spores can rot the flowers or establish within the cluster potentially causing late-season problems.

 

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However, the hot, windy weather immediately following this storm helped limit the threat of early-season damage. “A light breeze and low humidity was perfect for combating the disease,” Foxx says. “Within a day or two of the rain, the canopies were completely dried off.”

This past winter the Santa Cruz Mountains vineyards received only about one sixth of normal rainfall. However, she expects the drought will have less impact on production here than in some other regions of California’s wine country.

For one thing, the vines can take advantage of the area’s close proximity to the Pacific Ocean to take up moisture from the frequent fog and humid air. Also, the grape clusters tend to grow on the smaller side here. Plus, growers already consistently manage their crop to sacrifice yields for higher quality fruit more than is done in some other areas.

“The buds look as good as last year, but they haven’t set any fruit yet,” Foxx says.  “Based on the number of clusters we’re seeing, the potential is there for another big year for the crop. Because of the low soil moisture levels, it will be important that growers manage their vines to balance how much fruit they set with the available water. But that promises really great flavors from this year’s vintage.”