The mid-March bud break in such early varieties as Chardonnay in the Lodi appellation of northern San Joaquin Valley came a little sooner than usual. However, buds began opening in blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and other later varieties pretty much on schedule — late March. Favorable spring weather, including temperatures pushing into the mid-80s during the day before cooling down to the mid-40s at night, has resulted in good vine growth, reports Stuart Spencer, program manager for the Lodi Winegrape Commission.
Since bud break, growers have escaped any freezing temperatures. However, typically, frost can remain a threat into May, Spencer notes. Meanwhile, the mild weather has ramped up powdery mildew pressures in the vineyards and put growers on alert, being extra diligent with early-season control to avoid any flare ups of the fungal disease, he adds.
Spencer expects the vines to start blooming, as usual, in the first week or two of May.
“Right now we’re looking at a fairly average year in terms of growth patterns in the vineyards,” he says. “The vines are growing quickly and the late-winter rains have left good moisture levels in the topsoil. However, without good rainfall for much of the winter, the soil deeper down is probably fairly dry.”
Availability of surface and well water for irrigation doesn’t seem to be a problem for growers in this area, at least so far, he notes.
The impact of the dry weather the past three years varies from one grower to another, depending on the irrigation district and access to groundwater. “Soils in some vineyards hold moisture better than other,” Spencer says, “Not every grower is in the same boat. However, every grower is concerned about the long-term prospects for maintaining an adequate supply of water for the vineyards.”
To help growers deal with this and variety of other production challenges, the Lodi Winegrape Commission has developed the website — www.lodigrowers.com . It features research reports and weekly columns. “We launched the website last year, but it’s just getting up to speed this season,” Spencer says. “It’s written for Lodi area growers. But, it’s applicable to winegrape growers in other areas, as well.”
As the 2014 season gets underway, Spencer is encouraged by the market outlook. “We’re just starting to kick things off for this year,” he says. “The vines are growing very well. Coming off of two very large crops, most growers are expecting lighter production this year. Demand and prices for wine grapes has been fairly strong the last two seasons. I’m optimistic that this trend will continue as people continue to drink more and more California wines.”