Rainfall from a few good storms in December and January totaled maybe 3 inches and growers are now irrigating their vineyards to recharge the soil profile ahead of bud break.
This is about month earlier than normal.
“Right now, we‘re definitely behind in normal rainfall,” says Jim Stollberg, whose firm, Maverick Farming Company, Santa Maria, Calif., manages about 450 acres of wine grapes in the Santa Maria Valley, straddling part of the Santa Barbara-San Luis Obispo county line. “Usually, though, we get a good amount of rain in March or April — we can hope for that.”
Growers apparently were spared damage from low- to mid-20 degree temperatures in mid-January, he says. That’s unusually cold for the area, but by the end of the month, temps were in the 80s, and that was more problematic.
“The warm temperatures were worrisome because of their potential to promote early bud break,” Stollberg says. “In fact, many growers expected to see quite of bit of vine growth by mid-February. But cold nighttime and soil temperatures seem to have kept the buds tight.”
Bud break is expected early this year, based on sap flow in the Chardonnay.
Growers have been getting much more interest from wineries in grapes at both the lower and higher price levels they’ve seen in quite a while, Stollberg says. “That‘s a significant difference from 2010 and 2011.
“With a much smaller supply of bulk wine than in the past few years and short tonnage this past season, buyers at all price levels are showing renewed interest in contracting what’s in the field. Wineries have gone from taking almost all 2011 grapes on short delivery to trying to secure all availablefruit for 2012 and subsequent years.
“The general thinking among growers and buyers in this area is that if grape yields are average this year, prices will continue to rise over the next two or three years,” Stollberg says. “Wineries are trying to lock in prices now so they don’t have to pay 10 percent to 20 percent more for the same grapes later this year. That’s good for everyone in the wine business.”