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Winemakers say grape-growing season off to promising but tenuous start

Vigorous vine growth at ONX Wines in Templeton
Vigorous vine growth at ONX Wines in Templeton

The 2016 grape-growing season is off to a promising start, but temperatures over the next few weeks will be critical in determining the yield of this year’s crop, area winemakers and growers say.

The winter rains — less than forecast but higher than recent years — were sufficient to flush out salt buildup in the soil and spur strong canopy growth, crucial to supporting and protecting grape clusters as they ripen later in the season.

“The rain universally provided a cleaner, fresher start to the season, as far as soil quality,” said Randy Heinzen, chief operating officer of Vineyard Professional Services, which manages about two dozen vineyards in Paso Robles. “We’ve got very healthy vineyards with nearly full canopies already.”

The season started cold and early, Heinzen said, with some vineyards reporting bud break weeks earlier than normal. But as the vines start to flower over the next few weeks, they need calm, warm weather so the fruit can set on the vines.

“We need to get some heat to successfully complete bloom,” Heinzen said.

That’s where things went wrong last season, said Jeff Strekus, associate winemaker at ONX Wines, which has 26 acres of vineyards in the Templeton Gap. Flowering, which normally lasts 2 to 3 weeks, took a month and a half last year, causing far lower-than-expected yields, he said.

“The grapes seem to be pretty happy this year,” Strekus said, though even one or two cold days could change things.

In the Edna and Arroyo Grande valleys, most vineyards are already coming to the end of bloom and set, with favorable conditions for both quality and quantity, said Bill Kesselring, winemaker at Peloton Cellars.

“Berry size in the pinot noir looks very even, which lends well to high-quality wines,” Kesselring said. “We are very optimistic for this year’s vintage.”

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