Merrill expects pruning activity in the area to have wrapped up the second week of March in most cases.  The exception would be any vineyards lacking wind machines or overhead sprinklers to protect against frost. “Then, growers will probably wait until the vines are just at the point where they’re beginning to leaf out and prune at the last minute,” he says.

His crews will be back in the fields sometime in early April or May to remove any unwanted growth on the trunks and cordons of the vines.

He’s encouraged by interest from prospective buyers for his 2014 grapes. “This is the time of year we like to be talking with them,” he says. “In a year of over-supply, we may not hear from them until summer.”

In Paso Robles, much of that interest centers on Cabernet Sauvignon, although father south in the Central Coast, Chardonnay has been generating good demand, he adds.

Still, here, as in every other farming area of the state, drought is on everyone’s mind. With water for vineyards throughout the Central Coast coming entirely from aquifers and water tables continuing to drop, concern is focused on the wells. Will they run dry this season?

“While we don’t’ get water from any of the reservoirs along the coast, water levels in them range from zero to no more than about 30 percent of normal,” he says. “That’s an indication of the supply of ground water in the watersheds.”

That’s why he and other growers as well as non-farming rural homeowners in the Paso Robles area are working to form a water district. This area, which also includes row crops, alfalfa fields, and almond orchards, is one of the few agricultural areas in the state without one, he notes.

“Currently, we all operating individually, hoping to control enough water with the wells on our own property to survive a drought,” he explains. “A water district would allow us to plan for future droughts and to levy fees and borrow money to pay for facilities to store water for use when we need it. As individuals, we can’t do that.”


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