Fresno First to Reach Bud Break

Earliest wine grape varieties pushing this weekend in California

by Jane Firstenfeld
wine grape vineyard fresno french colombard bud break
Vineyards in western Fresno County have started bud break in white white wine grape varieties Colombard (above) and Pinot Gris. Photo: George Zhuang/UCCE
Fresno, Calif.—Pinot Grigio grapes, typically the first to exhibit bud break, are ready for the weekend, according to George Zhuang, University of California Cooperative Extension viticulture farm advisor for Fresno County. Despite the chilly, wet winter, Fresno County wine grape varieties appear to be on schedule with last year, Zhuang told Wines & Vines.

As expected, bud break and the growing season emerge first on the county’s west side. Raisin and table grapes, including Thompson Seedless, used as a blending variety among large wineries, start their seasons earlier and because of just-freezing temperatures earlier this week, some have suffered frost damage, local sources said.

Nathan Cardella, winemaker at 4,500-case Cardella Winery in Mendota, pondered the fledgling season. “I think we’re always the first.” By this time last year, his ranch already had bud break.

His wine grape buds were swelling earlier this week, and some French Colombard had begun to break. He expected more within the next few days. Cardella started pruning in mid-December, although some 150 acres have yet to be pruned on the 850-acre vineyard.

Cardella added some Chenin Blanc vines to the line-up and harvested the first crop last year. Most of his yields of this variety are destined for sale to other wineries, but Cardella expects to vinify some himself. His west-side vineyards are hand-harvested, but those further east are mechanically harvested. There are just 23 wineries in Fresno County, according to Wines Vines Analytics.

Peter Angelo Vallis, executive director for the San Joaquin Winegrowers Association, concurred that Fresno is usually the first California region to experience bud break, starting in the west and working its way east toward the Sierra Foothills.

First varieties to leaf out depend on the area. “Who knows what’s going to dry up first?” Vallis wondered. Most soils in the county have good drainage.

Vallis said that local growers expect even less labor availability than in recent years, and what labor there is will be more expensive.

While winter rains finally stopped and the sun emerged this week, overnight temperatures have been unusually frigid, according to Mark Salwasser, vineyard manager for Fresno State Vineyards at California State University, Fresno.

Overnight temperatures reached 31°-32° F this week, and Salwasser found frost in the vineyards. He said he hasn’t seen any bud break in the 65 acres of wine grapes he tends. Salwasser doesn’t expect any bud break until next week, and he has observed “just a tiny bit” of swell. Except for early raisin grapes and French Colombard, nothing is close yet. Planted on sandy soils, the vineyards have good drainage.

Pruning at Fresno State Vineyards is complete, finishing Feb. 25. The vines allow the university’s 8,000-case winery, founded in 1997, to be self-supporting and serve as training grounds for viticulture and enology students, Salwasser said.

Posted on 03.06.2017 - 08:32:23 PST
Winter rains continue, 0.3 inches yesterday in Fresno
William Wurth