Another Tough Spring
By: George Balling
The 2022 vintage is just getting underway in the wine grape growing areas of the Northern Hemisphere. What makes a poor, good or great vintage for wine in any area can be impacted at so many times during the grape growing season. There are key moments that can make or break the vintage at any point. Each year when the buds break on the vines and the flowers that ultimately become the grape bundles bloom, it is not only a beautiful site to see, but also a time when grape growers and winemakers are full of hope for the coming crop.
For Europe the season is off to another tough start. “The Continent” had a string of exceptional vintages from 2015 through 2020 with nearly all appellations producing outstanding quality and, in some years, very large crops. Last year though and similarly this year things are off to a rough start. All types of bad weather are in full force with late frosts, heavy rain, and hail all happening regularly. While farmers have tools to manage the cold night time, frost producing lows the most challenging of all conditions are heavy rain and hail. This heavy precipitation if it arrives after the vines have flowered will cause “shatter”. This is when the flowers are knocked off the vines by the precipitation. In turn the vines will end up with incomplete bundles of grapes or even some with no grapes at all.
While this can drastically reduce the size of the crop it will also impact the quality of the grapes that are left. Grapes grow in a bundle or cluster for a reason. This formation provides protection for the individual grapes and also ensures even ripening later in the season. We will see how the vines come through the bad weather in the coming weeks and months but for now we are not optimistic.
We have been shivering our way through spring here in North Idaho with all forms of precipitation here too. The weather in the vineyards of neighboring Washington and Oregon has not been much better. Bend Oregon had a low of 15 degrees this week. The heavy rains and occasional hail we have seen here at home have been happening to the west as well. While this weather pattern has the growing year off to a slow start, it many not be quite as bad in the Northwest. The season starts later here naturally and combined with the chilly temperatures the vines are behind where they normally would be. This means in many cases that the vines have not yet flowered which will help prevent the shatter that Europe is experiencing. There is plenty of season left for all of Washington, Oregon and Idaho to recover we will keep our hopes up and keep you posted on how the year progresses.
In California the state started out the winter season with ample rain and snow across the state. Unfortunately, the spigot was turned to off as 2022 started and the state has seen some of the lowest precipitation totals ever in the first three months of the year. As we have discussed in previous years when the drought has been at its worst in California the grape growers have decades of experience in dealing with these conditions. They are excellent stewards of the environment and adroit at dealing with inconsistent rain and snow fall. The rain the grape growing regions received at the beginning of winter delivered enough rainfall to fill the reservoirs that are everywhere in and around the vineyards to provide plenty of water for the growing season.
The good news of this dry first quarter for California is they are not dealing with any of the negative impacts of heavy precipitation. In addition to being dry though, the growing year is starting slowly in Northern California specifically. Like here it has been mostly below normal in temperature slowing down the vines a bit. The vines have plenty of time to catch up on the slow start and we are certain the heat units will be where they need to be later in the year.
The big risk for all of California with a dry start to the year is fire. The grape crop has been negatively impacted in many recent years by fire and the accompanying smoke so a bit more rain this spring would be welcome, only time will tell.
We will continue to keep all of you posted as the vintage develops.