Winemaker's Journal - September 2012

2012 Growing Season to Date

If the challenging weather patterns of the two previous growing seasons tested the nerve of California winegrowers, then the normal conditions of 2012 (as of June 30) have eased their collective consciousness.

2010 and 2011 were marked by above-average spring precipitation, cool temperatures in spring and summer, and rain during harvest. Consequently, key milestones such as budbreak, bloom, berry set and veraison were uniformly delayed, causing winemakers to strategically pick around the late-season rains before being assured of successful vintages.

Conversely, 2012 has experienced favorable conditions thus far: mostly dry and clear with very little frost. It’s also been somewhat of a drought year with the Sierra Nevada snow pack down 30–60% of normal (a statewide indication of water reserves). Some climatologists believe these dry conditions are the result of a La Niña weather pattern (lower than normal ocean temperatures in the equatorial Eastern Pacific).

January and February were fairly dry and unseasonably warm during the day with one heat wave in high 80s that lasted a few days. However, there were sustained periods of overnight coldness that hovered around the freezing point.

Significant storms ensued on March 10 and 26, bringing long-overdue rainfall to vineyards. Temperatures were near normal in March and April with days reaching the 50 and 60s and nights in the high 30s to low 40s. There were only a couple of dips below 30 degrees.

The low overnight temperatures in January and February delayed budbreak one to two weeks depending on the grape variety with most pushing late March to early April.

Many regions experienced long stretches of beautiful spring weather during April, May and early June: clear skies, days in the low 70s to high 80s, nights in the high 40s to low 50s, and occasional morning fog that burned off by late morning.

There was a cluster of rainy days beginning on April 2 followed by another storm on April 9. Temperatures warmed up on April 19: low 90s in Paso and 80 degrees in other growing regions.

In many regions, bloom occurred around May 7 for white varieties and mid-May for red varieties.

The season’s second heat spike occurred the week of April 19: low 80s in Monterey, high 80s on North Coast and Lodi, and 90s in Paso.

June 4 saw four hours of steady rain in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Santa Clara Valley, Monterey and North Coast. The skies cleared mid-to-late afternoon and the wind picked up to dry vines. The rain did not fall on Paso Robles or further south.

The remainder of June was clear and cool except for one heat spike in the middle of the month.

It’s way too early to proclaim 2012 as a “banner year,” but it appears promising thus far. Look for a summary of the entire vintage at season’s end.

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