Wine Country growers brace for possible weekend freeze
SAINT HELENA – With a frost warning up for the Bay Area, approaching cold weather this weekend could be a concern for wine makers.
Frost can hurt vines that have just started to bud. But that short term concern may be washed down by some very good news for the California wine industry.
"When you've got water coming out of the sky it's a lot easier than having to have it trucked in," laughed Rod Santos, General Manager at William Harrison Vineyards & Winery in Saint Helena.
Santos is currently waiting for the season to bust out of these dormant vines.
"Those little nodules here where the green growth will pop out in a relatively short amount of time," he said, pointing to the pruned vines. "Next month."
If the vines are already budding, frost can be very bad news.
"It depends on where you are, just in terms of the little microclimates," he told KPIX. "We've had some cold evenings, and that's going to be a concern if you've already got some green growth."
That potential problem is nothing compared to the good news here, and that is plenty of rain and water.
"Really, hopefully, we get enough so that it's penetrating the soil," Santos explained. "We've had three very dry years, the past three, so we've been in a drought. So to get out of that, the water really needs to get below the soil down where the roots of the vines go. That's where the vines look for their water. In a perfect world, we would not use any water on the surface.
Effectively, winemakers are trying to make up three years of drought in one blockbuster winter.
"Yeah, I mean it's hard to do," said of the challenge. "Although we've had a lot of water this year."
The rain means less pressure to deliver water to parched vines, and it could not only change the size of the harvest, but the taste as well.
"I think what it does is it relaxes the vines," Santos said. "They know they're not going to be as stressed looking for water. So they'll tend to give us more fruit, as you expect. More water equals more juice. But also, if it doesn't get too hot, they tend to give us a little juicier flavors, a little easier to drink wines when they are younger. It's farming. At the end of the day, the wine business is all about the farm."
So frost could help early budding vines, but in the larger picture, California wine makers can relax a little bit after several years of drought. And relaxed vines tend to give a little more wine.
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