March 11, 2016 | by Brent Young
Mother Nature has been good to us so far in 2016, delivering more than 21 inches of rain to date and an additional 4-plus inches are predicted by the end of this week. Currently, the 21 inches of rain received represents 84% of a normal year in Sonoma County (36.28 inches is our annual average). This makes farmers very happy because every great vintage starts with ample water in the ground before bud break. Access to additional water resources throughout the growing season is also critical.
Jordan made an investment decades ago to build its own reservoir for capturing winter rainfall to use throughout the dry summer and fall months. Full lakes help us irrigate the vineyards and olive trees and also provide frost protection and water for livestock. I’m relieved to report that both Jordan Estate lakes are now completely full. The banks of our lower lake by the garden have swollen and extend almost to the road. The two local reservoirs–Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino–which provide water to area residents, businesses and some farms, are also full. As El Niño continues to batter Northern California, there’s been lots of talk about whether or not the historic drought is over. Technically, it’s not. Officials say that we need “above average” rainfall to fall at very specific times to put this drought behind us. You can learn up-to-date information about the drought and current water levels on the Sonoma County Water Agency’s website.
The rain has arrived in waves. After weeks of intermittent rain storms in December and January, a record heatwave hit in mid-February, forcing yet another early bud break. As a result, our farming practices are being altered a little this year with the threat of frost predicted early next week; bud break is well underway at the Chardonnay vineyards we farm in the Russian River Valley, as well as in the Petit Verdot blocks at Jordan Estate. The frost prediction requires us to mow our beautifully flowering cover crops earlier than normal. This practice ensures the cold air will unlikely be trapped in the vineyard rows of actively growing vines and decreases the severity of a radiation frost event. Wish us luck for the remaining weeks of winter.
“Uniform” is how we would describe bud break this year in our Chardonnay blocks–all the leaves are bursting at the same time, so they should continue to progressively grow in concert–which is ideal for Winemaker Rob Davis. We expect to begin seeing buds in our growers’ Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blocks in the next few weeks.