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Editor's Letter


West Coast Drought Watch, Episode 3

April 2014
by Jim Gordon

When the week I am writing this began, rain had been in the forecast for five days, due to arrive where I live in Napa, Calif., on Monday morning, March 10.

This would have been great: another nice boost for irrigation ponds and watersheds. We’d already had two rain events in the previous month. A third might mean that the previously declared drought of 2014 was just a scare.

On Sunday evening, right on cue, clouds moved in. The air felt heavy and cool. Surely rain was on its way. Maybe even snow. It smelled like that. At 6 a.m. Monday morning, I stepped outside as the wind picked up and I felt a few drops coming down. Then? Nothing. It stopped before it really started.

Instead, a strong wind blew for two days, accompanied by a clearing trend. Other areas nearby did get some rain, but not nearly enough. Rain totals in North Coast areas of California now average only 35% of the typical rainfall for this time of year.

This issue is basically Episode 3 of the West Coast Drought Watch. Again, we have good advice and up-to-date research to help affected vineyard owners and managers deal with a shortage of water for frost protection and irrigation.

Viticulture during drought
Particularly relevant is Glenn McGourty’s Grounded Grapegrowing column about “Vineyard Irrigation With a Limited Supply of Water.” McGourty, who is the winegrowing advisor for Mendocino and Lake counties from the University of California Cooperative Extension, looks at water use for each growth stage of the vine.

He splits the growing season into six stages, from early spring dormancy all the way to leaf fall, and discusses what steps a grower can take to conserve water in general while applying it as necessary during the various phases. He consulted five viticulturists in Australia who worked through that country’s severe drought in 2006-07 and interpreted their experiences for use here.

Fruit set to véraison requires 35% of total water use, and véraison to harvest requires another 36%, according to the Australian experience. Other stages need some water, too, but those just before and after véraison are the critical ones, he writes.

In the Practical Winery & Vineyard section, the article “Role of Soil Moisture at Bud Break” by Hemant Gohil looks closely at spring sap flow and what it says about the vine’s water needs. He reports on a study from Washington State University.

Another article in the PWV section, “Improving Management of Grape Powdery Mildew With New Tools and Knowledge,” is possibly the biggest contribution to knowledge in this issue. The report by six researchers from four states covers nine pages and includes nine photos, graphs and illustrations. The article shows the value of trapping and mapping powdery mildew spores to better understand how the pest travels.

Non-barrel oak products
This is our ninth annual Oak Alternatives Issue, in which we step back and look at the overall progress of oak products that are meant to be used with or without traditional barrels, as well as describe what’s new and effective among these products.

Inquiring Winemaker columnist Tim Patterson assesses the big picture in his commentary piece that asks the question: “Will Barrels go the Way of Floppy Disks?”

Yes, he acknowledges that barrels have hundreds of years of tradition on their side, but this inquiring winemaker wonders if they are worth the money and the trouble when barrel alternatives work just as well for the majority of wines.

Associate editor Andrew Adams looked at what’s new in form and function among the dozens of oak products. Readers who work in the cellar will especially welcome changes in the way oak adjuncts are shaped and packaged to make the oak easier to measure and mix in with must or wine.

A year of Practical information
This issue also marks the first anniversary of the merger of Practical Winery & Vineyard with Wines & Vines. The idea was to add the technical, often research-oriented viticulture and enology articles for which PWV has long been known, to the news, metrics and regionally oriented how-to service articles that have been Wines & Vines’ bread and butter.

We think it’s a good combination and value the addition of PWV editor Don Neel, who brings a generation of experience to our pages, as well as his stellar team of contributors from several continents.

Final thought: As you read this Episode 3 of the Drought-Watch, I will repeat the advice from last month: Conserve Water, Drink Wine!

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