Kevin Merrill

Kevin Merrill

Beautiful springtime weather brought daytime temperatures close to the 80-degree mark last weekend. We started to see some budbreak around March 17 in our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines.

Almost overnight, thanks to the onset of the warm days, the vineyards take on a whole new look. New growth can be seen emerging from vines that fell into dormancy over the cold months of winter.

A tricky time of year because the weather can really fluctuate from warm days to cold nights, with rain events still forecast through mid-April.

This time of year we monitor the fruit frost forecast by several meteorologists, who offer a subscription for their services. We receive weather updates twice daily. The frost forecast arrives via email around 4 p.m.

Years ago I believe the National Weather Service provided the fruit frost forecast free of charge. You were able to call in and get a new recorded forecast after a certain time in the afternoon. I don’t believe that service is offered any longer.

The warm weather also brings on the threat of mildew beginning to form in the new growth of the vines. We have started to apply wettable sulfur to keep it in check. We really need to apply the sulfur every seven days to keep up with the new growth, tricky this time of year when we balance the timing of the sulfur spray with the forecast of a rain event that could wash the sulfur right off of the leaves we just tried to protect. The same is true with growers relying on overhead sprinklers for frost control, like with all farming operations, timing is everything.

Last Saturday I drove down to Santa Ynez via Highway 154 to check in on our crews in that area. I noticed the green grass swaying back and forth along the hillsides. Some of the grasses are beginning to dry out. Colorful patches of blue lupine stood out under the canopies of white oaks as I made my way toward Los Olivos.

My memory took me back to the ranch and the hills behind our house when I was growing up along Alamo Pintado Road. On a wet year, the lupine would be so thick a young boy could hardly walk through them, especially before my grandfather let the sheep graze that part of the hillside. I can still remember picking lupine to take to my teacher, Miss Hamilton, at Ballard School when I was in the second or third grade. They are still my favorite wildflower.

Driving down 154 it’s hard to miss the bright-orange California poppies growing on the face of Grass Mountain, as it seemingly keeps watch over the Santa Ynez Valley. Funny, when I was growing up in the Valley, I don’t remember the poppies making such a beautiful splash of color up in the mountains, maybe I was too busy picking lupine for the teacher to notice.

Be sure to get out and enjoy all the colors of springtime, hopefully a few April showers will keep the flowers blooming and the grasses green for a little while longer.

Kevin Merrill of Mesa Vineyard Management is a board member of the Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau, and a director on the Santa Barbara County Fair board. He can be reached at kmerrill@mesavineyard.com

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