Wet weather continues
SET AGAINST STORMY SKIES, Ramona Nicholson takes advantage of a break in the rain to check on the newly bloomed buds at Nicholson Ranch Winery.
The heavens seemed to open on Sonoma this week, dumping 4.39 inches of rain in a week. But in the midst of the heavy series of storms, small signs of spring arose in the form of buds breaking on the grapevines.
The worst of the wet weather came on Thursday when rain pelted the Valley, bringing 40-mile-an-hour winds. Schell-Vista firefighters responded to several calls about downed trees in the area, causing them to sound the alarm warning residents to be cautious.
Austin Cross, with the National Weather Service in Monterey, said more rain is on the horizon this weekend, with another storm expected to settle in Friday afternoon.
"It won't pack quite the same punch as (Thursday's) storm," he said. "We'll probably have some showers through the weekend, but it should taper off for the work week."
Although so much rain makes it more difficult to work in the fields, most Valley vintners are not stressed about the weather - yet. The buds on the vine are young and small, making them less likely to be knocked off during the wild weather. But if the stormy season continues in coming weeks, it could become a headache for growers who will have to fight off frost and a lower crop yield from losing blooms on the vine.
"It's not a concern for me at this point, " said Ramona Nicholson, owner of Nicholson Ranch Winery, where hillside vineyards grow in a unique micro-climate that often causes the vines to bud earliest in the spring. Nicholson said the buds broke about a week later this year compared with last year, likely due to the cool temperatures.
The constant sheets of rain have turned most vineyards into the equivalent of a mud-wrestling ring, making it is increasingly difficult to get equipment out into the fields to mow down cover crops and perform other spring maintenance. Nicholson said she is utilizing a system of tracks that the mowers can roll along, but setting all the pieces up can be an arduous process.
"We can work around (the mud) but it's a little more expensive and takes quite a bit longer," she said.
Nicholson said that, despite the mud, the rain is a welcome sight for her dry-farmed vines. Instead of watering the vines through the hot summer months, Nicholson Ranch collects rainwater during the wet months to use in the summer in an effort to make less of an impact on water resources. Often the yields are smaller, but Nicholson said the wines develop a stronger flavor.
"My anticipation is that there will be plenty of water for me to do more dry farming this year," she said, adding that she is attempting to dry farm chardonnay for the first time.
Nicholson said the only concern she has is freezing in the vines with the excessive moisture. However, her house is rigged with a "freeze alarm" that will sound whenever temperatures drop to freezing levels, alerting her it's time to get up and turn on the wind machines that blow moisture off the vines and help prevent freezing.
She said in her ideal world, the weeks of rain would be followed by a heat snap to wake all the vines up at once. "That will get everything growing at the same time," she added.
Noting she cannot predict the weather, she said so far signs are pointing towards a healthy season. "All and all, I'm hopeful for a good growing year," she said.