Things are looking up for wine grape growers in the Lodi region of the San Joaquin Valley following last year’s harvest, when production was down from normal but quality of the grapes was good.
“The crop was fairly light so total returns weren’t at the level growers would have liked,” says Stuart Spencer, program manager for the Lodi Winegrape Commission. “But prices rose quite a bit to help make up for any production losses. Demand for grapes has improved significantly over what it has been the past several years, and wineries are clamoring to tie up grapes in this area. There’s a long season ahead and a lot could go wrong, but right now the outlook is positive.”
Although the winter brought more chilling hours than normal, rainfall was below normal. However, growers were able to irrigate during the winter.
By the first week of March, pruning and other cultural practices had been completed, for the most part. However, some growers had delayed pruning varieties susceptible to Eutypa dieback to help control the disease. Eutypa delays shoot emergence in spring and stunts growth. Extensive infections can kill vines.
Some growers had been getting new ground ready for planting more vines, Spencer says. This follows a decade of little vineyard development in the area. Some varieties are being planted are that haven’t been grown in the Northern San Joaquin Valley area. They include Muscat and Malbec as growers respond to increasing demand for these grapes.
As for possible insect pressures this season, one that’s been gaining increasing attention is vine mealybug, which overwinters in the bark of grapevines, making control more challenging.
“Mealybug has been posing more of a management issue for our growers over the past five or six years,” Spencer says. “It’s adding costs to our production equation.”