The powerful impact of our grazing herd in the vineyard
Budbreak Photos from around the Vineyard

A welcome dose of late spring rain

It has been a dry winter.  After record low rainfall in December, we saw a brief break when one wet weekend in January dumped nearly 5 inches of rain on us.  Then we returned to a weather pattern dominated by high pressure over the eastern Pacific, and the next two months saw only one other moderate rainfall event, where a storm on March 17th (Zinfandel Festival weekend, of course) provided another 2 inches of rain.  So, entering late March, we were stuck around 12 inches of rain for the year.  But things changed about three weeks ago.  Between March 24th and today, we've received measurable rainfall ten of the twenty possible days.  Of course, most of those days were light, totaling just 2.42 inches in the three-week period through yesterday.  We were ready to call it a season and move on.

Enter last night.  Paso Robles was awakened by a massive thunderstorm just after midnight, and the rain poured down for the next several hours.  Other weather stations out near us reported between 2 and 2.5 inches between midnight and 8 a.m.  It was so wet that the conduit that contains the power and phone hookups to the weather station on our property was flooded and shorted out.  Our patio, this morning:

Rainy Patio

While we won't ever know that exact totals, we're now around 17 inches for the year, out of the drought zone and into a livable area one might term "moderately dry".  Given the two wet winters we saw in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, we're comfortable going into this growing season without any worries about needing to supplement with irrigation.

Even better, the clear, cool, dry weather in early and mid March meant that at least a couple of nights each week dropped below freezing.  Those freezes, combined with the cool daytime highs of recent weeks, delayed budbreak a full three weeks compared to last year.  Last April, I posted about the crazy hail and snow we received, three weeks after budbreak.  As the year went on, it was clear that the freezing weather had cost us something like 30% of our production.

The frosty March and the wet April are ideal.  We even have the benefit of this rain being followed by a warming trend, which is forecast to keep the nighttime lows above freezing through the end of April.  The new growth like that in the chardonnay vine pictured below should be able to proceed without too much danger.

Budbreak in Chardonnay

And after two bad frosts in the last three years, a frost-free spring is just what the doctor ordered.