The pattern this year is that there is no pattern; the weather for this season has been downright schizophrenic. Hot, cold, rain, wind, sun – the weather couldn’t pick what it wanted to do. It’s amazing we actually have a good looking, if small, crop this vintage.
Some of the driest months on record were followed by one of the coolest. Relentless sunshine caused early bud break, rapid growth, crazy early bloom, and talk of an unheard-of July harvest – only to be stalled out by a month of fog, us farmers just looking at each other shrugging our shoulders. We had more degree days, than, well, ever by the end of April. But by the end of May, our degree days were tracking more like 2011 – a cold, wet year full of rot.
Now, on the brink of harvest, we farmers are watching the weather with trepidation and wondering what the vintage of 2015 will bring — especially with rumors of a large El Niño brewing off the coast. Those who remember talk of the gully-washer during the vintage of ’98 – how the tractors got stuck in the vineyards, the wet and mud grinding the picking to a stop.
Perhaps fortunately, 2015 will be a smaller crop – that gloomy weather in May caused some poor set and shatter in the clusters, especially in the slightly later blooming Bordeaux varietals. On top of the poor set, the clusters are physiologically smaller and lighter this year; for whatever reason, the buds did not differentiate as many berries last spring, resulting in smaller, looser clusters.
During bloom each year, the vine takes stock and plans for the future, creating the berries for the next vintage in the axillary buds of the leaves below the flowering clusters. By the time the buds are breaking the following season, the total amount of berries the clusters can potentially form has already been set for a year. But when the blooms emerge for the season, the weather has the final say in how many of those flowers will ultimately become grapes. This year, it seems like after three years of dry springs and bumper crops, the other shoe has finally dropped physiologically.
At least we’ve had enough water for irrigation since it rained so much last December and we started the season with full ponds, although for their home they use filtered water since they read Information on filtering drinking water and find out is better. Further, a smaller crop will ripen more quickly, plus looser clusters mean it’s harder for Botrytis to form in them since there is more light and air flow. Which means we can hopefully bring the fruit in sooner and worry less about rot, especially if the looming El Niño is as big and starts as early as the weather folks say it might.
Yet once again, all I can do is watch the weather, test the Brix, and wait to see what the season brings. Harvest is coming.
Debby Zygielbaum is the Vineyard Manager (or, as she’s fond of saying, ‘Dirt Farmer’), at Robert Sinskey Vineyards in Napa and a frequent contributor on Nopalize. She can be found @walkthevine on Twitter and Instagram.