Greener Fields Highlight Prospects of Improved Crop for Sonoma County Grower

Sonoma County wine grape grower David Cooks likes what he’s seeing in his vineyards so far this season. “They’re definitely greener and look better overall than they have in the last few years,” he says.

Now in its 22nd season, Cook’s company, Cook Vineyard Management, based in Sonoma, Calif., manages around 450 acres of vineyards in the county’s Sonoma Valley, Los Carneros, and Sonoma Coast appellations.

Cook grows the seven varieties most widely-planted in Sonoma County. Of these, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel represent about 75 percent of his acreage. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah make up the rest.

By the start of May, two of his varieties, sporting about 10 inches of shoot growth, look especially promising. “The Chardonnay vines appear to have a heavy load with a lot of clusters,” he says. “So do the Pinot Noir blocks. If we have good weather during bloom, these two varieties could produce bumper crops this year.”

That’s in contrast to last year, when overall yields in his vineyards were down 15 percent to 20 percent, Cook says.

He attributes the brighter prospects for his crops this year, in part, to cold temperatures in late November and into December. “The warmer winters the last few years have been a little rough on our vineyards because they didn’t go into dormancy as well. This past winter I think the vines slept more and, for a change, we had adequate rainfall for a better start this season.”

Cook supports his expectations of higher production this year with evidence from his fields.

“We weigh our prunings on certain vines throughout the vineyard to see how well the shoots grew the previous year,” he notes. ”Higher weights equate to healthier plants and that equates to better yields in the future. Our weights this time were about 5 percent to 10 percent higher than a normal year.”

His vineyards experienced their first and only frost threat so far this spring shortly after budbreak in mid-March. Cook turned on the fans in the early hours of March 29 and March 30 in the Carneros and Kenwood areas.

Due to several rains in April, Cook has used two fungicide sprays to keep powdery mildew in check. “All the blocks are pretty clean of the disease,” he says. “The threat from powdery mildew has been low the last few years because of the dry weather.”

Although budbreak occurred about seven to 10 days earlier than usual, Cook expects the bloom in his vineyards to begin, as it typically does, around May 20, starting with the Chardonnay and ending about a month later with the Cabernet Sauvignon.

Meanwhile, soil moisture levels have been ample this spring, Cook notes. He plans to begin irrigation with well water during the first week or so of May. That usually marks the beginning of his irrigation season.

Source: Greg Northcutt, Western Farm Press

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