With mostly Pinot Gris, along with some Sauvignon Blanc, leading the start of veraison in the Lodi vineyards of Vino Farms during the third week of June, Craig Ledbetter was looking ahead to an early harvest this year.
Crews could begin picking the first grapes – Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris, plus some Pinot Noir for sparkling wine – seven to 10 days earlier than the typical start of around Aug. 20. That is, if berries continue to grow and mature at the rate they have been under the influence of this year’s good growing conditions.
Ledbetter is a partner in Vino Farms, LLC, which grows a wide range of red and white wine grapes on more than 11,000 acres in the Central and North Coast regions of the state as well as inland in Sacramento, San Joaquin and Yolo counties. That includes about 5,000 acres of vineyards in the Lodi appellation at the north end of the San Joaquin Valley. There the crop has benefitted from minimal powdery mildew pressure this season.
“Even with a good control program in place, it can still be a struggle to keep powdery mildew out of a field,” Ledbetter says. “But that hasn’t been the case this season. So far we’ve already had as many 95-degree or warmer days as we did all of last year. That’s kept powdery mildew at bay so that our control program has been able to tame the disease. It hasn’t been much of an issue at all this year.”
In the waning days of June, mites were starting to show up in the Lodi vineyards, as usual. Also, not surprisingly, some vine mealybugs were becoming active. However, Ledbetter wasn’t seeing the potential for any unusual crop-protection challenges this year.
Still, the good condition of the vines and the absence any major pest or disease threats up to this points doesn’t necessarily mean a good-sized Vino Farms’ grape crop this year.
In fact, Ledbetter expects production this year to be 5 percent to 10 percent below average. However, compared to the previous two years, his 2014 crop could be as much as 35 percent smaller, he notes.
“Across all varieties, the clusters aren’t very large,” Ledbetter says. “We had a lot of shatter and shot berries this year. Normally, that results from rainy, windy weather earlier in the season. But, we had a very nice spring. Maybe the vines are taking a rest from the past two very large crops in a row.
However, a smaller than average crop this year shouldn’t reflect any nutritional deficiencies, he adds.
Last year, as usual, Ledbetter fertilized his vines with nitrogen, phosphorus and other needed nutrients at mid- and post-harvest, based on results of soil and petiole testing. “It’s good for vines to enter dormancy with the right amounts of nutrients inside of them so that when the wake up in the spring they’re growing well,” Ledbetter says.
The size of this year’s crop will also hinge on availability of water for the vines.
In that respect, Vino Farms’ Lodi vineyards should be OK. All are on wells and the pumps continue to provide the needed amounts of water, he notes. So far, Vino Farms’ North Coast properties, which can draw on ample supplies of water stored in reservoirs, also are in good shape. The only questionable area are the vineyards in the Paso Robles area. The concern isn’t so much the quantity of water for the 2014 crop as it is the quality. There high levels of boron and salts in the ground water could impair health of the vines and yields, Ledbetter said.
“It’s very important for next year’s crop that we have normal or higher rainfall this coming fall and winter,” he says.