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Viticulture Association of the Santa Cruz Mountains

  Bud Break II

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Bud break. Well, I think it is anyway. It looks like we may be running 2-3 weeks behind last year. The Chardonnay was first out this year.  Last year the Pinot broke first. Most vineyards that I have seen are no more that a couple of inches long at best. By the time you read this they will have grown more, especially if we get any warm weather. 

The biggest challenge of this year is by far the rain. The ultra wet conditions of the season so far have made it difficult to even access many vineyards, much less spray them only to have the spray instantly washed off by the next storm.  A sound fall cover crop program should pay off big this spring by allowing you into sites that otherwise might be inaccessible for a few extra weeks. It is not a perfect system but cover crops have improved access in many vineyards.

Spray program. Hopefully many of you were able to get a dormant spray of lime sulfur on in the warm part of February. Still, this will not cover you if you canít get in and spray now. Larry Bettiga will join us at our meeting in late April and will speak directly about the spray program for this year.

Hopefully you may be able to get in and spray before the meeting. I like using early season spray eradicants like JMS Stylet oil early and often in a year like this. You can do the same thing with a more traditional sulfur program, especially if this has worked for you in the past and you do not have have mildew pressure in your vineyard. Whatever program you decide to go with, it is essential to focus on a complete tank mix (no material falling out on the bottom of the tank), thorough coverage, and follow up sprays after rainstorms and significant green growth.

Canopy management will be key to disease control this year.  Expect to go into many vineyards to disbud or clear out the canopy more than once. Light and air are the best weapons of defense against disease pressure.

Keep your canopies open and in a position to dry out as quickly as possible.  Fruit set may be problematic this year.  I have read some articles that suggest a few options that may increase your odds of a decent crop.  Nothing can change the weather, this year or last, and that will be the prime determinate of your crop.

Still, if you want to try something, you may consider the following strategy:  Be sure to include Zinc and Boron in your pre-bloom sprays. Be careful not to overdo the Boron but many vineyards in this area are very low in this micronutrient and deficiencies in the two can dramatically affect fruit set and cluster formation. There are many Zinc formulations. I prefer the chelated liquid formulations but many people think it doesnít matter as long as you get it in the tank. The most common form of Boron available is Sol-u-bor. This is a great product that dissolves easily. The only problem is that is comes in 50 lb. bags and you only need maybe a pound or less per acre. If you have a small vineyard consider sharing a bag of this with a neighbor to reduce storage hassles. (Note: you can send a message to the VASCM email list, to VASCM@kkn.net, to see if anyone else would be interested to share a bag.)  Other micronutrients have been shown to affect berry set, fruit formation, and fruit maturity so consult your petiole analysis to see if your vines are showing deficiencies.  If you didnít do a petiole analysis last year try to get it done this year for sure. 

Remember the vineyard floor. Keep the weeds away from the vine trunks, especially around young vines. Ideally mow the vineyard rows, and cultivate if you must. Just keep the non-vine growth down.

Watch for gophers. The little buggers have up to 3 or more generations a year. Get the 1st generation under control now (easier when the earth is damp and soft) and your problems will be less for the rest of the year.

Be sure and pick up some Vine Mealybug traps at our next meeting. We will have them available and want to encourage everybody to monitor for this pest. Ignorance is not bliss in this case. Stay vigilant and be proactive. (You can find detailed information on VMBs and the damage they cause on our website at www.vascm.org.)

The good news is that there is some real and very positive interest in our Santa Cruz Mountain fruit. Congratulations to everyone for their hard work and focus on producing the premium crops that make our wines valued and memorable.

Happy Spring (it really is Spring). We will see you out there in the canopies letting in that light and air.

Prudy Foxx
President, Viticulture Assn. of the Santa Cruz Mountains

(VASCM newsletter, April 2006)

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