Wine grape growers in the Paso Robles area of the Central Coast were seeing the first green on their vines this season as leaves began emerging in the first week of March. Farther south in the Santa Maria Valley around Los Alamos, shoots had already pushed out about eight inches, reports veteran grower Dana Merrill. 

His company, Mesa Vineyard Management, Templeton, Calif., owns and manages 6,000 acres of vineyards in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties.

While leaf out around Paso Robles typically lags the Los Alamos area, the difference seemed to be little wider than usual this year, he notes. That may reflect the limited amount of sunshine the previous week when a storm brought an estimated 3 inches of rain to vineyards east of Paso Robles and around 5 inches on the west side, Merrill says.  This follows half an inch or so rain a month earlier, the area’s first precipitation of the year.

 

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He figures the east side of Paso Robles has received a total of just over 4 inches since early November, while the west side has had, maybe, around 7 inches altogether. That compares to average annual rainfall of around 13 inches east of Paso Robles to as much as 35 inches on the west, Merrill reports.

“The rain in late February was a godsend,” he says. “It was a nice rain and soaked about 8 to 10 inches in the ground. But, dig deeper than the soil is very dry.  The latest rain didn’t do much to make up for the lack of rain that usually falls in November, December and January. It’s unlikely we’d make up the difference in March.”

Meanwhile, he and other growers were on alert in the event of this season’s first frost since bud break.

He wouldn’t be surprised to see some growers in the region try to conserve limited water supplies by removing marginally-productive vines and then hoping for rain to return before replanting next year. 

“If a block is getting to the point where aging vines need to be replaced and water availability becomes an issue, some folks may decide to take them out now rather than trying to push things,” Merrill says.

Also, he expects growers to invest in technology to monitor and schedule irrigation to use water even more efficiently.

At the same time, with water tables dropping and pumps bring up more salts, he’s prepared to increase water application rates, if needed, to flush out any build up salts in the root zone of his vines.