Friday, March 6, 2009

Whether the Weather

"Spring is sprung, fall is fell, March is here and it's hotter than ...usual." You all have heard that old one before, but as a matter of fact, the weather is, well, puzzling. From second week in January to first in February, we had temps off my back deck in the high 80's, average about 85. In January, for cripes sakes. What in the world is going on? We had 2 inches of rain post harvest, two more in December, then two inches twice in January. February we had another two, and now in March, another two. That is a grand total of 12, and we are getting near the "no more rain period" around these Paso Robles parts. At the 25 mile long Lake Nacimiento, just to the west of Paso, the lake is down below 25% of capacity, with many areas looking like mud bowls.

Okay, what does this mean? Well, the summertime temps in January were a bit scary for encouraging vines to swell their buds, just prior to budding out. Then came a cold snap in Feb, and now nites here remain in the mid to low 30's. It looks like a usual bud break time will occur, but inland valleys will be very prone to late spring freezes...again. As for the third year of drought, any dry farmed fruit on westside, or eastside, can count on being 50% or less. If we have another 12 inches of rain, then all bets are off. Obviously for drip irrigated vineyards, we can make up for the insufficient rain, but that means starting to water now. For us, not a huge expense, but for 400 acres, or 2000 acres, we are talking serious bucks. Generally it seems, most folks are keeping their powder dry and are hoping for more rain. Problem is if you wait too long, it may not do you that much good. Some neighbors have watered, but to date, most have not.

Last year we ended up 50% light in our Cab, Syrah, and Merlot blocs. The 5 incredible days of 105 to 110 degrees around May 15th were highlighted by 115 degrees on May 21st in our vineyard. That is no typo. At that point we were half way thru bloom, and half the tiny buds that give way to blooms were still closed up. At 115 degrees, unopened buds just literally popped, like popcorn, and blazooey, there goes the crop, Martha. The icing on the cake...literally...came June 2nd when we hit 24 degrees in our valley vineyard. By then, tho, the damage was done. I think the late frost down low was just someone sticking a stick in our eye, just to rub it in.

What does all that mean for this year? OnlyLord almighty knows. But weird weather like summer in January usually portends some other freakish weather happenings, and most end up not being favorable. One thing we will do for certain is to not prune our valley vineyard until the last moment before bud break. When the buds are really swollen we will prune then. Just guessing , but I have a feeling that the 2 week summer in mid winter will push everything back two weeks, and that includes bud break, bloom, and verasion. Sure, things may just proceed as usual, but the last several years we have seen weather nobody has found in their vineyard journal logs before. Somehow, that's what this year feels like, but, of course, it is not certain.

One thing I do believe in and that is the pendulum theory. We have had bizarre weather starting with the big, dark, wet in 2005, followed by strange runs of unseasonably hot weather in cold weather times for 2006, 2007, and 2008. Maybe the pendulum is going to swing back and bring us more of the routine most of us are used to. But if it hits 115 in May during bloom again, look for me to take up raising peanuts in Georgia. My bet, tho, is that the pendulum will swing back and bless us with normal bud and bloom weather...I hope.

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