Grape Flowering & Fruitset

Well, flowering is finally wrapping up over this last week or so. This being mid-June, it puts us a solid two to three weeks behind “normal” – whatever that is. 

As I wrote earlier, the growing season got off to a late start but the hope was that we’d have some nice, warm weather and get caught up, or at least most of the way. 

But, all you northern Californians know that it’s been an unseasonably wet, cold spring. If I determined my location by observing the weather, and nothing else, I would have thought I was having a long stay with my sister, up in the Willamette Valley.

Two to three weeks behind normal isn’t necessarily bad. It all depends upon what Mother Nature has in mind for the upcoming months. A late crop means a late harvest, which means a better chance of a rain during harvest, which isn’t a good thing at all. 

You might be interested to know that the grape flower is a self-pollinating hermaphrodite. The flower contains both the male stamen and the female ovary and, theoretically, could pollinate successfully in a brown paper bag – not very sexy…

But, it IS convenient. It means the grower doesn’t have to worry about bees or wind – just the weather. As the rain pounded down on Auction Napa Valley, the first weekend in June, I wondered if any damage had been done. Heavy rain, such as we had, can impair pollination, which means fewer grapes on the vine. But, by casual observation and talking with a couple of growers, things don’t look half bad. Some of the early flowering varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir may yield a little less than – again that word “normal” – this year. But, considering the very cool, weepy weather, I’d say we’ve been lucky. Now that we’ve got fruit on the vine the growers can go in to do cluster counts and assess the crop size. 

But, maybe it will be hotter than blazes and these tiny grapes will ripen quickly (or dry up – in fact, if it’s really hot, above the low 90s a lot of the time, it can slow things down as the vines go into the survival mode). Maybe we’ll have an exceptionally cool vintage, like 2010 and harvest will push into November. Maybe conditions will approximate “normal”  – which is the most attractive of these options.

It’s a lovely, “normal” day today, here in Napa Valley. Cool, foggy morning. Then, as we walked from stall to stall at the farmer’s market, as the fog lifted, I was surprised to find I got a little warm. That’s good news. Let’s hope for more of this “normal” stuff – that’s what makes Napa Valley such a happy place for wine grapes. Cheers! 

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