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Bud break spreading through North Coast vineyards

The past week of warm weather has started annual bud break of area vineyards, prompting Paradise Ridge Winery winemaker Dan Barwick to keep a closer eye on the Walter's block of pinot noir, Monday March 13, 2017 in Santa Rosa. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2017

BILL SWINDELL,

With springlike temperatures finally arriving over the weekend, North Coast winemakers and viticulturists said Monday that bud break in vineyards has begun in earnest, signaling the start of the grape growing season.

“They are just going nuts,” said Dan Barwick, winemaker at Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa, of the chardonnay and pinot noir vines on the winery’s 156-acre estate.

The winter rains that have brought almost 53 inches of precipitation to Santa Rosa since Oct. 1 — 23 inches above normal — also have invigorated the vines’ root systems after hanging on through five years of drought, Barwick said.

“They haven’t woken up to this level of moisture for a long time,” he said.

Most of the local activity has been in the Russian River Valley, among pinot noir and chardonnay vines, said Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers trade group. However, it could pick up speed and spread rapidly across the county if the warm weather sticks around.

“It depends if the warm temperatures continue or if the cold will come back,” Kruse said. The National Weather Service said the temperatures should be conducive for more spouting, with highs from the upper 70s to mid 60s through the rest of the week and only a slight chance of rain on Wednesday and Sunday.

The timing of bud break this year is normal compared to recent years and could mean harvest time for sparkling wine in Sonoma County could arrive at the end of July or early August, Kruse said.

Two years ago, it arrived so early in the season that crews were forced to hustle to ensure all the necessary pruning on the vines was finished so they would produce fruitful shoots.

At Paradise Ridge, the first bud break occurred on Feb. 16 at its Nagasawa chardonnay vineyard. Last year, it occurred on Feb. 14 and in 2015 it landed on Jan. 31, said owner Rene Byck.

Barwick estimated about 2 percent of his sustainably farmed vineyards have experienced bud break so far, but within a week that number could rise to more than 75 percent of the chardonnay and pinot noir crop, thanks to the warm temperatures.

“I think we will see full bud break across the county (soon) if we keep these warmer temperatures,” he said.

Grower Steve Sangiacomo in Sonoma Valley, whose family oversees 1,500 vineyard acres, said bud break is at least one week behind last year, though the pace should pick up soon. His first vineyard bud break this year occurred on vines in the southern portion of the Petaluma Gap, though other areas “are starting to see some green tissue.”

Over in Napa, Brittany Pederson, viticulturist for Silverado Farming Co., which farms 600 acres in both Napa and Sonoma counties, said the Napa Valley is about 10 days to two weeks behind from last year, “but that could change pretty rapidly with this weather.”

Like other vineyard managers, Pederson’s thoughts are now turning to preparations to guard against a spring freeze that could occur. To combat against it, farmers either use wind machines or overhead sprinklers that encases the vines in ice when the thermometer drops, which acts as insulation and prevents the tender shoots from freezing.

“We do worry about the temperatures,” Pederson said. “We are making sure the winds fans are up and running and sprinklers are in working conditions right now.”

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.