Taking advantage of warm spring weather, vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley are growing well.
“Overall, we’ve had pretty nice weather this spring,” says Jim Stollberg, Maverick Farming Company, Santa Maria, Calif. His company manages 450 acres wine grapes along the border separating San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
“Since late April, the weather definitely has been warm during the day and that’s kept everything moving along,” he adds. “The shoot growth has been pretty vigorous.”
With growers here drawing their irrigation water from deep wells, the vines are showing no adverse effects so far from below average rainfall. Since July 1 of last year, his vineyards have received no more than 7 inches of rain. That’s about half the normal total for the period. Although some storms brought rain from December through February, the big storms of March and April that failed to appear.
So, to ensure the vines started the season with wet root zones, Stollberg began putting water down earlier than usual. He started irrigating this year in the last half of March as bud break began in his Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Vines on the warmer hillsides started blooming near the end of April, as much as about a week earlier than usual. By the third full week of May the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir bloom was from 50 percent to nearly finished. At that point, Stollberg estimated some earlier hillside blocks were about 90 percent set. He expected most his Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to finish setting between the end of May and the first few days of June. Then, he’ll be able to gauge berry set and preliminary cluster weights.
“Right now, the cluster numbers look good,” Stollberg says. “The Chardonnay crop looks to be average and the Pinot Noir appears to be a decent crop, even better than average.”
The first of the Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc flowers were visible in late May. The bloom in these later varieties should be over by the end of June, Stollberg notes.
So far, the vines have experienced no significant pressure from powdery mildew. That hasn’t stopped him from following his usual preventive fungicide spraying program.
“We’re watching for any spikes in powdery mildew levels,” Stollberg says. “Many secondary and tertiary budspushed this year, so we have good canopies. We’re making sure to look in the right places for powdery mildew and to open up the canopies enough to get sunlight and air movement in the fruit zones to prevent the disease from getting a foothold.”
Stollberg is also keeping a lookout for any insect pests that prefer the warmer, drier conditions this season. He’s noticed no change from normal mealybug levels. However, he’s seen cutworm activity pick up and he’s finding more cool-season mites, like the two-spotted and the Willamette, than usual.
“We’re not terribly busy right now,” Stollberg says. “After the grapes set, we’ll be pulling leaves for about month and a half to manage the canopies. We don’t want big berries, especially in the higher-end varieties, which could lower the wine-making quality of the grapes.”
He’s encouraged about the price prospect for this year’s wine grape crop.
“It looks like the market is holding pretty well,” Stollberg says. “Currently, grape prices here seem to be similar to those of last year, which were pretty good.”
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