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Northwest Vineyards Sees Bud Break

Rate of development slows in March; Oregon growers report spring growth seven to 10 days ahead of schedule

by Peter Mitham
The weather outlook for the next three months shows that above normal temperatures are expected.
Dundee, Ore.—Buds broke this past week, starting the journey to vintage 2014, with those in Oregon’s Dundee Hills among the latest to join the pilgrim vines.

Gentle rains nourished local vines through March. Swelling buds finally began to break March 27 at Stoller Family Estate in Dundee, where vineyard manager Rob Schultz told Wines & Vines, “Bud break is just starting.”

The activity is a week to 10 days ahead of normal, but not as early as Schultz anticipated earlier this month, when it looked like buds could break as early as March 20.

Schultz said that as of March 7 sap was rising and vines were approximately three weeks ahead of schedule. While a good start on the season is welcome, too early a start increases the chance of damage from unexpected spring frosts.

Buds broke on April 6 last year, so the delay has lowered Schultz’s anxiety by launching the season closer to a normal April start.

Patty Skinkis, viticulture extension specialist with the Oregon Wine Research Institute at Oregon State University, doesn’t expect bud break to occur in any general sense until later this week for much of the Willamette Valley.

Effects of weather
The good news is that despite fears of damage from a sharp blast of cold weather in early December, just a few vineyards appear to have sustained any significant damage. Those were primarily in southern parts of the state, where temperatures plumbed 40-year lows.

Younger vines and those that had failed to harden off sufficiently were deemed most at risk, but most indications at this point suggest that vine losses are not widespread.

“There is spotty winter damage in the Willamette Valley,” Skinkis told Wines & Vines this week. “Most growers did not see appreciable (or any) damage due to our cold December temperatures. The only reports of bud damage have been from southern Oregon, where they had much colder minimum temps in December.”

El Niño brewing?
Greg Jones of the Department of Environmental Studies at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Ore., told Wines & Vines in December that he expected the winter to bring growers a grab-bag of weather, thanks to a lack of well-defined weather systems—El Niño and La Niña—over the Pacific Ocean.

Speaking at the Oregon Wine Industry Symposium in February, Jones said he expected the pattern to continue and contribute to a growing season similar to 2013.

The current three-month forecast from the Climate Prediction Center of the National Weather Service indicates that temperatures will be above normal across the Northwest this spring, while precipitation will be below normal.

Drawing on this data, Jones noted that chances are good for the emergence of El Niño weather patterns this fall.

“An El Niño watch has been issued, which indicates conditions are favorable for El Niño development within the next six months,” the NWS advised March 20.

El Niño is a warmer pattern of weather that typically brings greater precipitation to California and South America, while it causes drier winters to the Pacific Northwest. Some climatologists are predicting a “devastating” El Niño season.

Washington and British Columbia
Buds further north in Washington state and British Columbia will begin to break forth in April as temperatures increase. Typically, buds begin breaking in mid-April in the Columbia Valley and shortly afterwards in the Okanagan.

While photos of vineyards in California have been tantalizing for John Skinner of Painted Rock Estate Winery in Penticton, B.C., he is optimistic about the coming season. His own crews have finished pruning Painted Rock’s vineyards on the east shore of Okanagan Lake, and he doesn’t expect bud break for a few weeks yet.


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