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Sleep Deprivation in Paradise

by David on April 26, 2008

As our Winemaker/Vineyard Manager, Geoff, remarked “This is global warming??”

Ya gotta feel for him. It’s become a regular thing, getting up at 2:00 or 4:00 a.m. to hang out in the vineyard checking temperatures and listening to the radio until the sun’s up or he’s convinced we’re out of frost danger. Then it’s back to the winery to do some odds and ends before collapsing on his desk to catch a few zzz’s about the time the rest of us come strolling in at the leisurely hour of 9:00-ish.

Geoff blearily acknowledges “I have to count my blessings. We haven’t had any crop loss, so far, but at this point I’m about ready to sell my soul for a good night’s sleep.”He’s absolutely right. The Napa Register has reported over a million dollars in frost damage in Napa County so far this year, the worst year for frost in about thirty years – only the old timers remember a spring like this.

The buds for clusters appear almost the moment the growing season starts, and damage begins when it drops below 32 F. Some growers protect the new growth by turning on overhead sprinklers. If they have enough water, the ice insulates the tender shoots and buds as the temperature drops. We use a wind machine, a big fan, really, which mixes the warmer air, above, with the cold air that’s settling down on the vineyard to raise the temperature a bit. In many areas of the north coast, wind machines just couldn’t cut it when faced with temperatures in the mid-twenties, but we’ve been lucky so far. Some growers don’t have any form of frost protection at all.

A local vineyard management company estimates 27 frost nights over six weeks, since the growing season began in mid March. That’s bad. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. There are all those nights when it hits the mid thirties, which requires showing up at the vineyard just in case. So, even if it doesn’t actually freeze, you’re up in the middle of the night, driving around the vineyard sipping high-octane brew out of a thermos.

A little cloud cover, or rain or a good, old-fashioned warm front would provide some very welcome relief. We’re usually out of danger by about mid-May. Keep your fingers crossed and send some No-Doze…

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