This week’s late season storm has wine growers in Sonoma county on edge. Wet weather is unwelcome in May, when fruit clusters are beginning to develop on the vines. Growers can prune the vines to let air and sunlight in and treat them to fight mold and fungus that attack wet grapes, but fortunately that may not be necessary, since most vineyards are off to a slow start this year. As long as the rain lets up before the vines fruit set, this wet weather may not cause too much damage. By far, the worst rain for grapes is rain that comes in the fall when it can rot the fruit just before it’s ready to be picked.

Still, growers are anxiously awaiting a warming trend. Unless it dries out and warms up, the berries will not form, and harvest yields could be significantly reduced or lost entirely. After two cool summers in a row, those in the industry could really use a warming trend now. Last year was drier by this time, but it remained cool, and the overall harvest was good quality, but small.

Sonoma and Napa are not the only California regions that have suffered at Mother Nature’s hands early this season. In early April, growers from Solano to Santa Barbara suffered due to an unusual late frost. Vineyards around San Luis Obispo County and southern Monterey County may have been the worst hit; temperatures plummeted down to as low as 24 degrees and stayed there for nine hours or more in some areas between King City and Paso Robles. Some estimate that more than half of the vineyards in the Paso Robles area were damaged by the frost, some losing up to 90 percent of their crop. Farming industry advisors have warned that the threat of frost will last until late this month.

Until flowering clusters emerge and set, it is difficult to accurately assess the damage. But one thing is certain – thanks to uncharacteristic spring weather patterns, this year promises an uneven harvest. That’s bad news for wineries around the state, since 60 percent of the Central Coast region’s wine grapes are shipped to major wineries away from the coast. Wineries looking for uniform quality for super premium wines may have much less fruit available to them. And producers may have to settle for uneven quality for wines at lower price points, and try to compensate for the variability at the winery.  If there is one bright spot it’s that the reduced crop load this season means the same vines will generally compensate by producing a larger-than-average crop next season, unless similar unpredictable weather strikes again in 2012.


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