The Effects of NorCal Rains by Emeritus Vineyards

 Photo courtesy of Emeritus Vineyards

Photo courtesy of Emeritus Vineyards

This week on All the Swirl, Charles Communications Associates features a reposting from our client Emeritus Vineyards, who began a dry farming regimen long before California's challenging drought which commenced in 2012.  They examine the effects of the above-average Northern California winter rainfall and how it will affect the 2017 harvest. Originally published on February 7, 2017.


We have been getting drenched out here and are in the middle of another big storm today! You may have seen pictures of flooded vineyards, roads and farms. Although the rain was much needed, parts of central and southern California still remain in an extreme draught. Between October 2016 and today (February 7 2017), we have seen over 30 inches of rainfall compared to approximately 15 inches during the same time in 2015-2016. Because we dry farm the rain is of particular importance to us. In Sonoma, we only receive winter rainfall, summer (when the vines are growing) is dry. Our vines rely on whatever falls during the winter months to grow grapes during the summer months.

 Photo courtesy of Emeritus Vineyards

Photo courtesy of Emeritus Vineyards

Our Vineyard Manager, Kirk Lokka, forecasts that we will see more overall growth, including leaves, brush etc. Yields should be at least average but will likely show bigger berries and heavier clusters because there is more moisture in the soil to plump them up. The rainy weather may delay bud break a couple of weeks to late March. This delay is welcome because it prevents the buds being damaged by any early spring frost.

One of the hardships the rain has caused this year, is that our vineyard crew cannot prune in the rain. (For more on pruning check out our past blog post.) Pruning typically takes place December through March while the vines are dormant. Ideally everything is pruned by the beginning of March because that is when we typically see bud break. The vines are vulnerable when they are freshly cut because rain splashing onto the ground can stir up mildew spores that can get into the vine through the cut. This could be detrimental to our crop so it’s very important that pruning occurs on dry days so the vine can heal the cuts.

 Photo courtesy of Emeritus Vineyards

Photo courtesy of Emeritus Vineyards

Our vineyards are planted on Goldridge Sandy Loam soil overlaying a clay soil. The Goldridge drains very quickly, which is important as vines can suffocate when their roots are in standing water. The clay below acts like a sponge and gladly absorbs all the rain, essentially storing it for the vines to use during their growing season. Our vineyards are dry farmed so the vines have root systems that stretch over 10 feet down into the rich clay soil below. The vines are able to tap into the stored winter rainfall throughout the summer when we don’t experience any rainfall. Having more than average rainfall sets up the vines to produce another excellent vintage!

Written by Alexis Nicolai of Emeritus Vineyards