Sohan Samran is having an easier time managing his wine grapes this year than in 2011.
“The crop looks better now than it did at this point last year,” he said at the end of May. The Madera County farmer grows 850 acres of wine grapes in his Bapu Farming Company vineyards near Madera, Calif.
This year’s bloom began in the first few days of May, about a week earlier than in 2011. By the end of May, his French Colombard and White Zinfandel vineyards were looking the best.
Samran also grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Rubired, and Muscat Alexandria, which he planted three years ago. This year, he had to replant part of the original 150 acres of Muscat Alexandria, which suffered from the dry, cool winter. He’ll harvest his first crop from the undamaged fields this year.
“Those vines put out a huge bunch count this spring, and I was worried that the vines couldn’t support the crop,” he says. “But, shattering reduced the number of berries that set for a more normal production.”
In April, he made two herbicide applications to control fleabane, his major weed concern. He expects to start monitoring for leafhoppers around the end of June and begin watching for mites with the arrival of hot, dusty conditions in July, treating as necessary to control the pests. Currently, Samran’s fieldwork involves mostly feeding and watering vines, all of which are on a drip system. His irrigation cost has gone up 50 percent from a year ago, following a dry winter.
“Hopefully, prices in the grape market will be higher this year to help make up for some of that extra expense,” he says.
He sells a portion of his grapes on the spot market and has long term contracts for the remainder of his crop. Last year, Samran says, he was able to sell all of his grapes, and expects that will be the case this year, too, as the market continues to strengthen.
As things look now, the Cabernet Sauvignon could be his best moneymaker this year. In 2011, his yields overall were down slightly, and he took a big hit when rain in early October fell on his Cabernet Sauvignon grapes as they hung on the vines.
“They were looking great up to that point with good yields,” Samran says. “Within a week after that rain, quality suffered and yields dropped 25 percent. We were able to get the rest of the crop off quickly, but had we delayed another day or two, we would probably have lost all of the grapes.”