Vineyard Update: Flowering, Fruitset, and the Countdown is On!
It’s that time of year again when the ‘H’ word (Harvest that is) starts circulating through vineyards and wineries… What will the crop look like? Will it be an early year? How will the weather affect quality? While it’s true we still have a few months to go (give or take) before the first grapes are picked, now is the time when growers and winemakers alike can start to get a better understanding of what the vines may yield in terms of crop quality and quantity.
So far Harvest 2016 is shaping up to be another early year as adequate winter rainfall and mild spring temperatures ushered in the growing season. Indeed bud-break occurred at roughly the same time as last year which was one of the earliest harvest years on record.
As we say goodbye to spring and welcome in summer, warm sunny days mixed in with a few light showers continue to move vine growth right along as two crucial processes (flowering and fruitset) wrap up in the vineyard. Flowering, followed by fruitset, are the stages in the vineyard at which pollination and fertilization occur, ultimately resulting in seed formation and berry development. During this process optimal weather is critical as cold, wet, and cloudy conditions can hinder fertilization and lead to an excessive amount of berries that fail to fertilize and consequently fall off, resulting in fewer berries per bunch. This phenomenon is more commonly known as ‘shatter’ amongst growers and can have a significant effect on crop production. It is also during this time, when bud formation for next year’s crop begins to take place so this means that last year’s weather at flowering foreshadows this year’s fruitfulness and cluster counts. Of course many other factors such as vineyard management, irrigation strategies, vine health, and pruning strategies play a role in the final product. Here at Rodney Strong that means a lot of ‘boots on the ground’ as we walk the vine rows counting clusters and monitoring vine health.
“This year we are looking at a crop size slightly bigger than last year, if not approaching average- depending on variety and location,” said April Nalle, grower relations technician at Rodney Strong. “In some cases, cluster counts may be down a little due to less than ideal conditions during bud formation last year. However, ideal weather at bloom (although somewhat variable in the beginning) has resulted in good fruit set”.
If this season continues to provide ideal weather, especially as we approach the onset of ripening, then we are going to be blessed by a quality crop. Until then vineyards in Sonoma County will be continuously abuzz as farmers start strategically removing excessive leaves in the fruiting zone to allow for dappled light and cool breezes to penetrate the canopy and help evenly ripen grape clusters.