The wine grape crop in California’s Central and South Coast areas is looking good, despite a brief heat spell earlier in May when there were a few days in the 90s and 100s.
Surprisingly, the high temperatures did not affect the set, says Corky Roche, Roche Vineyard Consulting, Salinas, who consults on 2,000 acres of a wide array of varietals. He attributes that to the fact that the hot weather did not last that long.
“Timing of the bloom has been normal and I’m seeing even set and very even growth,” he says.
Nevertheless, whether there will be enough irrigation water to make the most of this encouraging start to the season remains a big question for some of his clients.
“Areas of San Benito and Santa Cruz Counties, especially towards the mountains, are very dry and output of wells has really dropped off,” he says.
Prospects for finding new sources of water aren’t promising, either. “We drilled a number of wells recently in San Benito County that were all dry,” Roche says. “We gave up.”
Wine grape producers in San Benito County rely on both well and surface water for irrigation. The surface water comes from the Central Valley’s San Luis Reservoir, where allocations have been sharply reduced this year due to judicial mandates to protect Delta smelt.
“There have been some discussions of cutbacks of more than 10 percent to 20 percent for growers in the county,” he says. “In the meantime, they are hunkering down and applying less water.”
On the market side, Roche doesn’t expect grower prices for this year’s grapes to improve from last season. If anything, he expects them to fall somewhat. Still, he’s hopeful.
“We hear that the supply of grapes in the valley is low right now, with some varieties almost sold out” he says. “So, even if there’s only a small increase in demand this year, buyers will be looking for more coastal grapes. That could help keep prices up.”