Late January into February brought a stretch of 70-degree days. Some flowering bulbs came to life, unfurling in the spring-like warmth. The birds started their chattering, and I think most were ready to cash it in, ready for an early spring. This would possibly set the stage for an early bud break on the vines. Then, bam! Overnight lows in the 20s, snow a handful of days, wind and storms more typical of midwinter. Our girls finally made use of their snow boots! For family vineyards like ours, the 180-degree turn in our weather was actually a blessing.
We know some growers in the Central Valley had sleepless nights with this late winter snap…blossoms too tender to take the harsh weather. But, for most high elevation grape growers, it was a sigh of relief. Our vines growing at an elevation of around 2200 feet remained dormant throughout the warm spell and all were still sleeping when the snow covered the hillsides. If the cold hadn’t come and those warm days had continued, buds would have possibly broke ahead of time. That would have increased the risk of crop damage down the road, mainly from a spring frost. One night with temperatures below freezing has the potential to ruin an entire crop. I dread that midnight call from my father-in-law, rousing my husband (and me too!) out of bed, sending him to start frost protection measures in the vineyards.
Right now, the buds are starting to swell. It’s exciting to see the very beginning of what will be the 2018 vintage! If the weather stays on course, we should see the tiny little green shoots spring to life through April. While we’ll still have to worry about frost into early May, an almost bigger threat will be the voracious rogue deer that make it into the vineyard. Tender new growth are a favorite. It’s amazing how many grapevines a deer can eat in a day. Ah, to be at the mercy of Mother Nature!