weather report

Monday, March 08, 2010

Temperatures throughout the Northwest have been well above normal, but in Walla Walla wine country the fact that the thermometer has been hitting 70 degrees is not necessarily a cause for celebration. Looking at her Waitsburg garden for the first time in several months, Mrs. G noted that “it looks more like early May than early March.” Buds on the service berry trees are about to burst into leaf. The ancient apricot tree is not only loaded with buds, but many are open and already attracting bees.

I know this for a fact because I was up in it for much of the afternoon yesterday, doing the spring pruning. The sun was shining, the sky was a deep blue, and there was barely a hint of a breeze. Shirtsleeve weather. I could literally feel buds opening as I stood in the crook of the gnarly old tree, and the scent of them was intoxicating.

But the neighbors, gathered around the coffee pot in the hardware store, sounded a dire warning. “If those flowers are already open on your apricot tree, you’re likely to lose your crop” they glumly predicted. That’s because temperatures are expected to drop into the upper 20s at night this week, and possibly even colder. “You’ll have to buy one of them $50,000 wind machines if you want any apricots!” they added, with a grim chuckle.

We have I believe the only apricot tree in our town of 1200, so it’s a matter of some concern, though personally I’d be just as happy to have a year off from picking up all the fruit. Most of it ended up feeding the Monteillet’s pigs anyway, along with last year’s pumpkin crop.

But the farmers’ wisdom in these parts says you don’t plant anything in the garden until Mother’s Day, which is still two months off. And if the grapevines get too many more of these extraordinary sunny, warm days, and get too far ahead of themselves, there will be a better than average chance that a lot of damage could ensue. A spring without a good hard freeze is about as rare as, well, apricot blossoms in early March.

I’ll be walking the vineyards later this week and will have a better idea of this year’s prospects. Anyone care to weigh in from other parts of eastern Washington?


Sean P. Sullivan said...

Paul, will be interested to hear how things are looking in the vineyard and what growers have to say. It's snowing here on the west side after having temperatures in the 60s over the weekend. Things seem quite off cycle at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Buds are still very tight at Ciel du Cheval with no overtly discernible sap flow. It's too early for us to tell if we'll be a couple of days earlier than historical budbreak; however, the condition of the vineyard looks good so far (even from my paranoid pessimistic point-of-view)...

Ryan Johnson

Gail Puryear said...

Grapes are still tight here in the Rattlesnake Hills. We have not seen temps above 60 yet, but about 5 degrees above normal for a month. Our forsythia is in full bloom - about two weeks early. Those $50,000 wind machines have already been fired up for nectarines. Bud break here is usually around April 22 which coincides with the end of nasty frosts. Two weeks early exposes us to two weeks of killer frost. They don't call her Mutha Nature for nothing.

terroirist said...

Buds are also tight on my backyard syrah in Walla2. From my experience, grape vines seem to respond to soil temps rather than air temps and a few warm days doesn't push the soil temps ahead of schedule very much. Having said that, I think this cool weather we're now having is a good thing - a continuous week or two of that warm sunny weather would definitely elevate the soil temps above normal and foster an earlier and more frost susceptible bud break.

Chris said...

I drove the Yakima Valley from Union Gap to Prosser and back yesterday. Lots of Cherry blossoms and some early peach or apple blossoms. I noticed some pruning going on in a couple of vineyards but didn't get close enough to check buds (even if I knew what to look for). Temp this morning is 28 F. I haven't looked yet, but I 'd guess all wind machine are churning and lots of smut pots are burning. Expect an Air Pollution Advisory in the Yak today. I'm no expert but I'd guess the cherries are most at risk.

MagnumGourmet said...

King5 did a report (not sure you can really call it that) about the weather's effect on the 2010 vintage. I have to say that I find the level of reporting in this piece nearly offensive.

PaulG said...

Magnum - I wouldn't want to rely on KING (or any TV, even at the network level) for my wine news. They need action, and let's face it, the most exciting part of the year at wineries (from a television point of view) is when grapes are being dumped into de-stemmers. Oh, and maybe a bottling line - that gets them going. Good wine reporting on TV is pretty much an impossible assignment. I know, I worked in TV for many years.

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