In Sonoma County, seasons arrive haphazardly. Winter lasts about three weeks, spring lasts about four months, and the rest is a summer/fall combination. Summers can feel like winter; winter can imitate spring; and fall can be warmer than summer.
Confused? That’s just the way we North-Coasters roll. Unlike the Sierras’ yellow aspen stands or brilliant East Coast forests that drop their leaves on a dime, our fall is a long and lingering affair. How it plays out depends on the triple point of light, moisture and temperature.
Except for a few rebel vineyards that start changing early, Wine Country’s fall colors begin to peak in early to mid-November. But each year is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, filled with surprises.
Some years, a post-harvest heat wave saps any remaining moisture from the grape leaves and torches the vines to an ugly brown. Freezing temperatures will do the same. A big foehn wind can howl through, blowing the leaves off the vines just as they begin to turn.
This year has been special. A mild fall didn’t fry the leaves. Early rains brought cover growth to the rows of grapevines, resulting in a slow release of moisture and protecting the vines from freezing temperatures that might have hastened the drop.
Sunsets and sunrises have been nuclear red/orange/yellow color blasts, with the sun glowing red as it hits the horizon. Red is the longest wavelength of visible light, scattering light as it travels through our atmosphere and blocking most other colors.
Given the undulation of clouds and rising air, layered sunsets seem to roll out over the entire sky. If you stay around after sunset on cloudy fall days, there is often a post sunset, revealing deeper colors that didn’t exist with the original burst.
Visually, it can be overwhelming. Finding the right place to photograph and showing the maximum amount of color is a challenge. Having a good camera with sharp lenses helps us capture the subtle nuances of sunset and vineyard colors that hand-held devices often fail to deliver.
Enjoy the show while we have it. Colors will inevitably fade as winter storms roll in.
View more photos “One Stop Under,” weather.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.