Bud break was a little late this year in Duff Bevill’s Sonoma County vineyards, but with more of the nice, warm weather that started the month of May, the vines should catch up, he says.
What’s more, so far, his vineyards have escaped any frost, insect and disease threats.
Bevill Vineyard Management LLC, Healdsburg, Calif., oversees the care of its own vineyards and manages additional acreage in Sonoma County.
Duff started his mildew sprays, mostly wettable sulfur, in late March and early April and has completed the third application on the early varieties, including Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. He uses the University California mildew risk assessment model to manage mildew.
It’s a bit too early to gauge prospective yields for mid-season and late varieties from flower cluster counts, but the number of two-cluster shoots on Chardonnay vines indicates the makings of an average crop this season, he says.
“A number of Zinfandel blocks appear light, with single-flower cluster shoots throughout. I’ve heard from other growers that they have blocks that look lighter-than-average as well.”
He’s relieved to see no apparent residual damage this spring from the nasty heat wave that walloped Sonoma County vineyards in mid-August last year.
“I’ve never seen such severe heat damage that affected so many vineyards,” Bevill says. “In most cases the basal leaves remained on the vines showing no signs of stress. But the fruit stem (rachis) was damaged; the fruit looked baked, as if the grapes had spent hours in an oven.”
Just about every Zinfandel vineyard was hurt to some extent, some very heavily. In fact, some blocks neighboring his vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley were lost and left unpicked.
Still, Bevill isn’t ready to declare his vineyard free of any lingering effects from the hot weather.
“To affect this year’s crop, the heat would have likely had to damage the buds that would produce the 2011 shoots,” he says. “So, if buds escaped undamaged, last August’s heat probably won’t have much impact on the crop this season.”
By mid-May his crews will have finished suckering and weed control activities, either mowing in the no-till vineyards or disking alternate rows in the minimum-till blocks. Based on current conditions, he may be able to hold off first irrigation until early June.
Bevill is starting to see some new vineyard developments this year after several seasons of no new vines going in. He thinks some of this by growers speculating on an improving market for premium wine grapes in the next few years. But, the new plantings also reflect interest this spring by grape buyers.
“We’ve already sold some Cabernet Sauvignon to several wineries that came out earlier this year. We’re now talking with half a dozen buyers about selling other varieties,” Bevill says. “But I’m not aware of any growers in the county who have any planting contracts this season — the demand simply isn’t great enough yet. As has been the case the last three or four years here, our most important issue now is selling grapes, not farming. It’s just that this year the situation looks a little better.”