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Grape producers approach a new season

The beginning of the growing season gets industry officials excited.

Lee Allen, Contributing Writer

March 9, 2023

3 Min Read
Sonoma County vineyard
A wine crop develops in a Sonoma County vineyard in spring 2022.Tim Hearden

Journalist Virginie Boone was hired by the Sonoma County Winegrowing community to put thoughts into words in a column called “The Good Stuff.”

It definitely is more than a glass-half-full perspective of the county’s billion-dollar industry made up of some 1,800 grape growers, many of them multi-generational family farms who cultivate in a 100% sustainable fashion.

As the start of a new season is now upon us, one column dealing with the quiet before the storm — A Vine’s Long Winter’s Sleep — seemed to symbolize the brief hiatus between the last harvest and the next crop cycle. With Ms. Boone’s permission, here is a segment of that bare-leaf period:

“Sonoma County grapevines are naked of their leaves, marking the end of the vine growth cycle, as they lie dormant and store resources to grow leaves and grapes anew.

That defoliation is both natural and necessary to the process allowing reserves of carbohydrates to keep the vines sustained during winter’s sleep.”

She quotes The Oxford Companion to Wine noting: “The vine responds to defoliation by producing new leaves on lateral shoots. New growth depends on the stored carbohydrate reserves until the new leaves are able to produce anew and build up reserves.

Instead of growing fruit, the plant’s roots grow and take up soil nutrients until flowering and vegetative growth occurs in the spring. Pruning during dormancy is all about managing reserves available for shoot development with soil packed around the vine to protect against the cold.

Once leaves begin to grow again as ambient temperatures reach the 50 degree F mark, the treasure trove of carbohydrates kicks things back into gear.”

The whole cycle of the seasons gets Karissa Kruse, President of Sonoma County Winegrowers, excited.

“Harvest and beyond is always a magical time in Sonoma County — a chaos to the rhythm that inspires — logistics that rival air traffic control --- the smell of fermenting grapes floating throughout the county,” she writes.

Excitement and relief

“There is the excitement and relief that comes with successfully shepherding the vintage to its growing completion. And then the vines go dormant and enjoy a few months off. They reset and wait for the hands of the grower and vineyard workers to guide them through the start of the next year with pruning.

As we begin a new year, there is much to be thankful for, much to celebrate, and much to anticipate.

In 2023, our Sonoma County grape growers are looking even further ahead than normal. They realize there has never been a more important time to be proactive or “go on the offense” to build on their sustainability commitment and lead with their vision for the “farm of the future.”

Impacts of labor, climate, and the marketplace are accelerating and in order to be best prepared to find solutions, they are inviting partners, collaborators, and innovators to join the mission of long-term preservation of agriculture.

Farming in the future is going to take flexibility, adaptation, mitigation, innovation, resource conservation, electrification, and the next generation to survive and thrive.

In a time, when many are only talking about the challenges. Sonoma County farmers are optimists and solution seekers. Their glasses are full — with Sonoma County wine ­— to celebrate 2023. Let’s make it the year of the farmer!”

Another good year is optimistically contemplated for the grape/wine industry and its impact on the state’s economy. A National Economic Impact Study of the American Wine Industry and a subsequent release of The Economic Impact of California Wine both lauded the positives and offered an anticipation of further good news.

Research by John Dunham and Associates estimated the California Wine Industry generates around $73 billion annually for the state’s economy.

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