Ten days ago, I was convinced that we were going to get clobbered by frost in the aftermath of a cold, wet Pacific storm. All the conditions were in place: an early budbreak, a weather pattern shift, and a powerful late-season cold front with origins in Alaska that was heading unusually far south for April.
And yet we made it through. It dropped into the low- to mid-30s eight of the first ten days of April (after seeing no nighttime lows below 38° in the second half of March) but our lowest measured low was 32.3° at the weather station in the middle of the vineyard. Why did we survive what the forecast called "an exceptionally cool air mass overhead"? We had just enough cloud cover the two nights after the storm came through (daytime highs 59° and 56°) to keep radiational cooling to a minimum, and by the time it cleared up, the air mass had warmed enough (daytime highs 67° and 70°) to keep our nighttime lows just above the freezing mark.
As a bonus, we got nearly an inch of rain, when every bit of rainfall we receive is welcome. 0.92" of rainfall doesn't sound like much, but over our 120 acres, the total volume is staggering: 2,997,829 gallons of water. Not enough to make a dent in our drought, but it does give us that much more confidence (and we were already feeling pretty good) that our vineyard is well set up to make it through this year's harvest.
And things look great out there right now. Every variety has come out of dormancy, and with less variation than normal. We often have to wait nearly a month between when Grenache and Viognier sprout and when we see the beginning of growth in our late-budding Mourvedre, Counoise and Roussanne grapes. But this year, the evenness across the vineyard, both between varieties and within blocks of single varieties, is noteworthy. A few photos will give you an idea. First, from the middle of our Grenache block, with Roussanne in the background:
A close-up of one of the cordons in our old Grenache block shows how far out things are: several inches, with tiny flower clusters already showing.
The clusters themselves are beautifully formed, and Viticulturist Levi Glenn thinks we may see our first flowering as early as May 1st:
The main work now is getting the cover crop (both what we planted and the wild grasses that seed themselves) under control, so we protect the vines from competition for water. A look through our Mourvedre block shows the new green growth in the middle of the vine rows, for which we can thank last week's rain, as well as the higher grasses growing amongst the vines themselves. This shows the one downside of this late rain; we will have to re-mow or re-disk many of the blocks we thought we'd cleaned up already:
Many blocks, though, are still unmowed, and we're enjoying the last of what has been a spectacular wildflower season. The purple flowers of our vetch plants are predominating:
We're making sure to enjoy the flowers now, because the next few weeks will see this wild scene turn into something much more manicured, as our mower, disker, and spader turn the green at the surface into delicious organic soil for our grapevines:
We're still not out of the woods for frost; Paso Robles can freeze as late as mid-May. But we've survived four dangerous weeks so far, and the ten-day forecast looks OK. If we can get into May without any damage, we'll be able to relax somewhat. So far, so good.