April 10, 2019 02:30
Take a journey through the growth-cycle of our vines from budbreak, through flowering, to véraison, and into harvest. To illustrate the progression, we will focus on one of our Pinot Noir vines, located in the 828 Block at Dutton Ranch Emerald Ridge Vineyard in the heart of the Green Valley of Russian River Valley. This month we investigate the current state of our vines: budbreak.
While there are many magical times of year in Wine Country, it all starts with budbreak in the vineyards. During budbreak, stored water and carbohydrate reserves begin to flow back into the dormant vines to keep them safe from frost during the winter. As the weather warms, the nutrient-rich fluids get pushed closer to the dormant buds, which then morph the hard bumps along the twig-like cut canes to softer bumps with peach-like fuzz. With weather calling most of the shots, little green leaves begin to emerge, coinciding with longer sunny days ahead. Simply stated, warm weather means sooner budbreak, cool weather pulls back the progress as the vines expend most of their energy in ‘protection-mode’, rather than growing.
Like most years, we did see evidence of budbreak occurring in some of our Russian River Valley sites with the vernal equinox on March 20th. However, after the initial wake-up of the tiny buds, progress stalled as many days of gray set in. Rather like much of our staff having a case of S.A.D., the vines seemed to be in the same winter rut. Rain season totals are about 54 inches for the season, with nearly 33 inches falling in the last 3 months. These numbers are above average by 20+ inches and the return of significant precipitation though most of California has aided in pushing us out of a seven-year drought. You may have seen some shocking images documenting the extreme rise of the Russian River in February. Our team and vineyards, aside from some area road closures, were mostly unaffected by the flooding. One of Dutton Ranch’s vineyards near Hacienda Bridge in Guerneville was completely submerged at one point, and Mill Station (where we source Chardonnay for our Dutton Ranch appellation blend) had significant flooding, but the team has cleared everything now.
Driving around our neighborhood, we would typically see vibrant, virile green in the vineyards by this time of the year. While the slow start isn’t a highly uncommon occurrence in our area, this does mean that harvest will most likely be delayed a bit as well. Vines need warm, dry weather to initiate growth, and with the ground still quite saturated, it will be a bit longer before they perk up as we’d like to see. All we really need is a week of dry, warm, sunny days and the vineyards will reenergize in no time.
As of early April, we have just started to see leaf formation at Emerald Ridge. Check out the images taken on April 9, 2019, compared with the shot from early April 2015. The most significant difference between the two photos is evidence early cluster formation in the 2015 image. Judging by the photo taken in 2019, we are still a few weeks away from that happening.
When we go out for early season vineyard checks, those precious shoots are what we look for as one of the indicators of the ultimate success of the season. Fingers crossed, but slightly delayed flowering could ultimately be to our benefit, as wet weather during flowering has caused issues in past vintages. Maybe Mother Nature will be on our side this time! We still have a long way to go in the season and the Dutton Ranch team is prepared for whatever may come our way.
Check back for regular updates through growing season and into harvest. We are looking forward to a healthy 2019 vintage. Stay tuned!