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Rain eases frost worries as bud break looms on North Coast

  • Leaves begin to grow on the vines as Rolando Soto puts in new trellis wiring at Hanzel Vineyards on Monday, March 10, 2014 in Sonoma, California. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Recent rainstorms have Sonoma County grape growers feeling more optimistic about being able to protect their crops from killer frost as full-blown bud break appears imminent.

"Right now we seem to be doing pretty good for frost protection. Most people have what they need," said Doug McIlroy, director of winegrowing at Rodney Strong Wine Estates.

Farther north in Mendocino County, however, growers are still being warned that they probably won't have any water for frost protection this season because of low reservoir levels and flow in the Russian River.

Bud Break At North Coast Vineyards


"Very limited, if any," said Sean White, general manager of the Russian River Flood Control District.

North Coast growers have been anticipating bud break with dread because of the lack of rain. Many have taken out crop insurance as a hedge against major crop loss.

But in Sonoma County, recent gully washers have filled farm reservoirs and increased flows on the Russian River as tiny buds popping out on vines signal the start of the 2014 growing season.

"We're in good shape," said Chris Bowen, vineyard manager for Hunter Farms in Sonoma Valley.

Bowen said buds are breaking out all over in one of the winery's chardonnay vineyards off Arnold Drive. The buds will gradually shoot into leaves and vines and, finally, clusters of plump grapes.

Full-bore bud break has yet to happen on the North Coast. But that could accelerate quickly with high temperatures expected to climb into the mid-70s to low 80s later in the week. No rain is predicted through Sunday.

"At least for the next week, it's going to be nice, unfortunately, because we could probably use the water," said Diana Henderson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

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