Thoughts on El Niño and General Lack of Z's
“I don’t pay the mortgage that I do for rainy weather,” my Irish friend said to me a few days ago. “The drought sits just fine with me.”
And it’s true: the last few winters in Santa Barbara have been the nicest summers I have ever experienced. And with the only worry I currently have being whether or not I can water my lawn, I guess it’s not so bad. People frequently ask me if it is negatively impacting the vineyards, and my answer is generally “no.” Vines in general don’t consume a lot of water relative to other crops. They are drought tolerant, and survive quite well on minimal drip irrigation. Furthermore the vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley draw water from a very healthy network of aquifers, none of which are depleted like many of those in the rest of the state.
Yet this year, I am starting to change my mind. The problem with our succession of warm winters is not so much the lack of rain, but the lack of cold weather. Vines like chilly winters. They go into dormancy in the late fall and like to get a good, solid winter’s sleep. If the temperatures are too high mid-winter, they have a restless sleep, and wake up feeling like we would after less than eight hours. It’s like falling asleep with the lights on.
During the last few springs, bud break has been increasingly early in the season. Vines have been lured out of dormancy far too early due to spiking temps during January and February. This causes the vines to wake up groggy and have a bad day (year). And when it happens for a few days (years) in a row, they get tired and cranky, just like I would. (And since I currently have an infant sharing my bed-space, I can totally relate.) The other potential harm comes in the form of spring frost, to which the young buds are particularly susceptible.
Bud break has come very early again this year, and what it portends for the fruit, we will have to wait and see. Last year it came very early as well, and some people were harvesting Chardonnay in August. That, my friends, is unheard of. We started picking Pinot Noir the first week in August, a record for us. A little dose of cold weather and rain would be a welcome guest at this point.
If this weather pattern persists, we in California will have to start seeking ever-cooler vineyard sites. Thankfully we at Lumen are in one of the coolest zones already - and I don’t just mean our attitudes.
BREAKING NEWS: Lumen tastings are now available at The Los Alamos General Store and Pico restaurant, located at 458 Bell Street in the sleepy town of Los Alamos, CA. Drop in and pay us a visit!
- Will Henry