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Bud break occurring in Sonoma County vineyards

With spring right around the corner and baseball near, another local sign of the new season is appearing across the North Coast: bud break in vineyards, a signal to the start of a growing cycle that will culminate in late summer with harvest.

Warmer temperatures within the last week have caused tiny buds on the vines to swell while fragile, green shoots of new growth have already appeared in several areas. They will later turn into clusters of grapes for a crop that was valued at $578 million in 2017 in Sonoma County.

“It has roughly been going for a week to 10 days,” said John Buchar, who farms 55 acres on his Healdsburg ranch along the Russian River Valley. He noted that pinot noir and chardonnay vineyards in some areas - such as those on hillsides with greater sun exposure - have had their woody vines awaken after being dormant over the winter. Others will need more time over the next weeks.

“I’m sure we are going to see more with the warmer weather,” said Bucher, who also produces wine under his Bucher Wines label. Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport reached a high of 76 degrees on Monday, though a cooling trend with rain will come into the area for the rest of the week.

Areas around the Carneros region near San Pablo Bay, which has a milder climate, are typically the first to experience bud break, growers say. It then will spread across the whole county, from Alexander Valley in the north to Sonoma Coast in the west.

“We saw the first signs of bud break about two weeks ago. Now, all of our early blocks are showing green leaves. The rest of the acreage has swelling buds and will break soon with this warm weather,” Mike Crumly, vice president of vineyard operations at Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards just south of Sonoma, said in an email.

Growers in the Napa Valley also reported bud break activity in the southern part of the county. “These are the first signs of bud break. In the weeks to come, when the weather gets consistently warmer, the sap will start flowing and the vines will be woken up. Bud break will really start to take off then,” Brittany Pederson, viticulturist at Renteria Vineyard Management in Napa, said in an email.

The timing of this year’s bud break is much more typical than the region experienced in 2018, when it occurred about a month earlier.

“We are right on schedule for this,” said Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers trade group. “The vines are coming back. ... Renewal is happening.”

The region received a considerable amount of rainfall over winter. Since the current rain season began on Oct. 1, Sonoma County has received 38.29 inches of precipitation at the airport through Monday, an increase from a historical average of 30.40 inches during the same time period.

That rainfall has allowed vineyard soil to absorb the water and store it for subsequent hotter months. The precipitation also has allowed reservoirs to be filled on many properties, which can be used for frost protection in coming months.

Some may have noticed above-ground sprinklers spraying water on vines across the county in recent weeks. Growers are spraying to relieve pressure on reservoirs that are beyond capacity as well as to test out sprinkler systems to ensure they work, said Kruse.

When overnight temperatures near 32 degrees in the spring, vineyard managers spray vines with water to coat the fragile shoots in a layer of ice that will protect them.

“You have to test the thing before frost happens,” Kruse said.

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