Winemaking. Life. The Dirt. Alison Crowe is a Winemaker Based in Napa.

Breaking Bud: The Bad Side of a Nice Season

Arrrgh!  The joys (the mustard!) and the heartbreak (the frost danger!) of the "Budbreak" season

Arrrgh! The joys (the mustard!) and the heartbreak (the frost danger!) of the “Budbreak” season

Just like TV’s favorite good guy/bad guy Walter White, there’s a lot of positive and negative about the season we call “bud break.”  On one hand, it’s an exciting and exhilarating time when our vines wake up and the buds start pushing out the shoots which will turn into this Harvest’s grapes.

Poppies!

Poppies!

 

                 There are gorgeous sights to be had out in the field:  stands of poppies, rows of mustard, velvety cover crops and of course, the stars of the show, our developing grape canopy and clusters. 

On the other hand, there are some potentially not-so-beautiful experiences to be had:  frost, continued drought, or even maybe crop-damaging hail.  It’s a stressful time where we worry about how cold those nights will get or how much (or how little!) rainfall will manifest as the days creep by into late spring when warmer night temperatures take away a lot of the worry.

Though we’d like to see more storms and rain during this early growing season (we need it!), the main concern is frost, especially given the 2014  bud break which is tracking a week or two ahead of average. 

Cloudy skies have kept killing frost at bay...for now.

Cloudy skies have kept killing frost at bay…for now.

What that means is that there are potentially two weeks’ more of nights where we could experience frost and subsequent damage to the emerging buds, resulting in stunted green growth and lost crop.  Based on bud counts, shoot counts and just because I don’t think Mother Nature can hand us three bumper crops in a row, 2014 isn’t shaping up to be a big harvest season to begin with.  Adding insult to injury, we are still in water-challenged conditions in California, which means that there could be little (and in some areas, no) access to extra water for frost protection (using sprinklers in cold conditions counter-intuitively can prevent buds from freezing). 

The weather forecast is looking great- let's let it hang!

Next week’s weather should look like this- pretty for taking vineyard pictures but clear skies mean more frost potential.

   So far, the Napa and Sonoma frost forecast into next week looks pretty good and continued cloud cover and rainy weather will keep nighttime temperatures above freezing.  As we clear up into next week, however, those clear night skies mean colder temperatures could set in even as we get sunnier and warmer days.  Cue the AMC (and the wind machines), grab some popcorn and a glass of Pinot Noir and be prepared for some “Breaking Bad”-style Jekyll and Hyde behavior.  It’s always exciting to be in the vineyard in the springtime but we could be in for some cold criminal action! 

Grab a glass of Pinot, it could be a wild frost season!

Grab a glass of Pinot, it could be a wild frost season!

Alison Crowe is the winemaker at Garnet Vineyards and is keeping tabs on vineyards in Carneros, Russian River, Sonoma Coast and Monterey appelations.  Follow her on Twitter @GarnetVineyards or on facebook.com/GarnetVineyards for the latest on the developing season!

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