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Rain, Rain Go Away

To say it’s been a wet start to the growing season is an understatement. A few years ago we were begging for rain, and this year we’re begging it to stop! So that poses the question: how do the vines feel about all this rain?

April marked the first month that we were mostly frost-free, which made for a busy month. Grapes needed to be tied, trellises needed to be worked on, and herbicides needed to be applied. The rain made these already not fun projects even less entertaining. Weed control became the most problematic as the alternating rain/sun/rain/sun had made everything grow like crazy, mixed with a mucky mess in the vineyards. The end of the month is when the grape buds began to come out of their dormancy. Thankfully, Mother Nature didn’t throw the grape growers any curve balls with random frosts.

Coming into May, the weekly reports had still been wet. For most varieties, bud break had officially occurred and with some of the early breaking varieties, small leaves could be seen. Early in the month, we had some colder days and nights, which wasn’t very encouraging for growth. There was a week mid-May that was mostly dry that allowed the vineyard teams to apply more of the early season protective sprays and even get some mowing done between the rows. They were also able to continue with “spot sprays” for more weed control beneath the vines. We don’t want any weeds stealing the nutrients from our next potential bottle of favorite wine!

And now we’re into June, which was also, you guessed it, wet. There hasn’t been much more than a 4 day break from the rain since the snow melted. The good news? The rainfall and relatively mild temperatures have created ideal conditions for the vine growth, but this also means that the protective sprays that cover the new growth are needed regularly. The irony is that it’s hard to keep the spray on the vines while it’s continuously raining, so the weather has to be watched very carefully and application needs to be strategic to allow ‘drying time.’ Now is also a good time to thin out the centers of the vines, removing unwanted or unneeded growth. Doing this helps with disease control and also allows the canes that weren’t removed to develop the most fruitful buds possible. They also remove all the unwanted growth from the trunk and base of the vines, which is called suckering. You’ll even notice ‘sucker’s at the base of regular trees and bushes.

Though we’re sick of the rain —vineyard workers and ‘regular folks’ alike— the vines are loving the moisture, especially as the weather is progressively getting warmer. They’re growing at a rapid pace, thus resulting in the catch wires needing to be raised, which support the new growth vertically. This positions the new growth to give it better exposure to the sun and air movement, which helps the grape clusters as they develop and mature. They’re also starting to bloom. They’re sometimes hard to notice, but the grape buds do flower. They’re self-pollinating, so the bees aren’t necessary, but they’re necessary for the bees.

Overall, the rain hasn’t had too much of a negative effect, besides the overall sogginess of the vineyard workers. At this point, it does appear that the growing season, measured by growing degree days, is somewhat behind a “normal” growing season. Though in my opinion, ‘somewhat behind’ is far better than ‘very behind.’

Katherine Chase