Warmer weather had resulted in better canopy development for coastal wine grapes by mid-June, compared to 2011, says Santa Barbara County wine grape grower Jim Stollberg. He owns Maverick Farming Company, which manages about 450 acres of vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley.
This year, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir began blooming in early May, about the normal time, and by mid-June had finished setting berries. His crews had begun pulling leaves to reduce disease pressure by improving air circulation and providing better penetration of fungicides.
“Opening the canopy early as early as possible also allows berries to adjust better to more sunlight during their rapid growth stage and reduces the potential for sunburn,” Stollberg says.
At the same time, his blocks of Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah were 40 percent to 60 percent in bloom and developing normally.
“The windy days we’ve had this season haven’t adversely affected the flowers or fruit set in those varieties,” he says. “Also, we’re seeing a lot of double clusters. Overall, it looks like we’ll have an average size crop, with some varieties maybe doing a bit better.”
Increased numbers of double clusters per shoot have helped increase the yield potential. Stollberg left extra buds during pruning to help insure more production this year.
As seems to happen about every four or five years, he saw a little botrytis on vines early in the season. He suspects the fungal infection was triggered by rains in March, followed by alternating periods of wet and warm weather in April. But, fungicides controlled the disease and he’s not expecting it to cause any problems.
He’s also been successful in keeping powdery mildew in check. The disease always has the potential of causing serious damage in Santa Maria Valley vineyards. This year, the crop is under increased risk due to the high amount of inoculum remaining in the fields from widespread outbreaks last year.
“So far, we have seen very little powdery mildew, especially compared to 2011,” Stollberg says. “Everyone is being extra vigilant. In our case, we keep our spray intervals pretty tight and open the canopy for better control.”
He hadn’t had any insect pressures through mid-June, but was watching for vine mealybugs and leafhoppers that might pose a threat. Later in the season he’ll be looking for mites, which require treatment in some years.
This year, wine grape prices throughout the Santa Maria Valley are up about 30 percent from 2011, Stollberg says. “That’s a pretty significant increase in one year. Also, there’s a lot more fruit out there than a year ago.
“Everyone on both the winery and grower sides of the industry is very optimistic; we’re looking for a good, normal season, with an average crop size and a market that is sustainable. It should provide wineries and growers a little profit, which we haven’t seen in the last few years.”