The rainy season this year has been an interesting one, we’ve had promising storms heading towards us out of the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, they’ve seemed split to the north and south of us before delivering any abundant rainfall. Over December and January, we’ve received just under twenty inches of rain. We’ll need to get another eighteen over the next two months to hit our historical average of thirty-eight inches. The good news is that we had plentiful rain last year that is still carrying over. Our reservoirs are still at decent levels, in fact even just being halfway through the rainy season they are reaching near capacity levels. Across the state the pressures of the drought we were in going into 2023 have subsided quite dramatically. The temperatures have been on the warmer side so far this winter which hasn’t helped snowpack levels. We are currently at 53% of normal. I’m hoping for some colder storms to come through this month to deliver not only needed precipitation but also some snow in the mountains. On average, California gets about 30% of its drinking water from the snow that accumulates over the winter months.
Winter seems like a quiet time for a vineyard but there is a lot going on. One project that Alvaro just completed is replacing broken trellis wire stakes. There are thousands of these stakes in the vineyard that hold not only the wires that we use to trellis the vines but also the irrigation hoses. This internal framework of stakes and wires is critical to managing the vines. This year we replaced one hundred and thirty-three stakes!
Vineyard Manager Alvaro Zamora next to newly replaced vineyard stake!
We are also in the process of pre-pruning the vines. For us, pruning the vines is a two-step process. We do a pre-pruning pass prior to the final pruning. Pre-pruning is an important step. It’s not uncommon for fully developed shoots to reach six feet in length. Often these shoots hang over the top wire, getting in the way of precision cuts during pruning. The angle and length of the final prune is crucial for the success of the vine during the next growing season. Pre-pruning prevents the old shoots from hanging in your face and distracting you from making the “best” final pruning cut.
A Pinot Noir vine prior to being pre-pruned.
This year we are tentatively planning on doing the final pruning towards the end of this month. Delaying the final pruning has two key advantages. The first one is that the weather will be slightly warmer and drier. This change reduces the amount of disease-causing fungal spores that float around in the damp air from landing on the fresh pruning cuts and infecting the vines. By waiting for warmer, drier conditions we are reducing disease pressure on the vines.
A Pinot Noir Vine after being pre-pruned.
The second key advantage of later final pruning is that it can delay bud break by a few weeks and offer protection to the vines in case of early season frost events. Once you have bud break the vines must be protected from damaging freezing temperatures. Frost damage can have severe consequences by reducing yields and affecting grape quality. It’s important to mitigate these risks in any way we can!
On behalf of the entire team here at River Road Family Vineyards and Winery, we wish you all continued good health!