Judging strictly by appearance, it’s difficult to detect anything amiss in the wine grape vineyards of California’s San Joaquin Valley just prior to the official start of summer on June 21.
“Right now, the crop looks absolutely beautiful,” says Peterangelo Vallis, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Winegrowers Association. “Given the size of the crop and the ideal weather this spring, flavors of the grapes should be developing nicely up and down the Valley. If not for the drought, it would be a happy farming year for our growers.”
Just how much water will be available to produce this year’s crop remains the big unknown.
“Many of our growers with groundwater and the ability to pump are confident they’ll have the water they need,” he says. “But, it’s difficult to determine what will happen to water tables. Last year, just as the summer heat peaked, some of our growers’ wells bottomed out.”
This year’s bloom was early and short, the result of unseasonably warm weather up to that time, Vallis reports. But cool temperatures in May, followed by the hottest weather of the year so far in early June, slowed what was an unusually-fast-developing crop.
At the beginning of May, this year’s crop was every bit as early or earlier than last year, he says. By mid-June, depending on location, development ranged from about normal to several days behind last year’s pace.
Vallis expects a normal veraison, with some varieties beginning to change from berry growth to berry ripening this month and others starting the process in July.
As for disease and insect pressure this year, he’s received no reports of any unusual activity.
Meanwhile, the market for this year’s San Joaquin Valley wine grape crop has been slow, with growers hoping for an improvement over last year’s low prices. Relatively few contracts have been signed up to now, and little bulk wine is being sold, Vallis notes
“With such little activity, it’s difficult to predict what sort of market will develop for our 2015 grapes,” he says. “However, wineries are likely to take exactly what their contracts call for and no more. Growers probably won’t be able to find a home for grapes not on contract this season.”
Such an outcome wouldn’t necessarily be all bad. “It would give growers an opportunity to conserve water and not over-stress their vines by producing only the grapes they need to fulfill their contracts.”