Bud Break Occurring Across Northwest

BC growers face floods from spring runoff, Oregon and Washington enjoying a normal spring

by Peter Mitham
Heavy spring run off has been a challenge in parts of British Columbia’s wine country where Tinhorn Creek Road near Oliver, B.C. was eroded (seen here) and Pipe Dreams winery was cut off by a washed out road. Source: Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen (RDOS).

Oliver, British Columbia—Buds are breaking across the Pacific Northwest, kicking the 2018 growing season into gear after a relatively mild winter that left most vines unscathed.

With temperatures near normal and vines on track, the biggest challenge growers anywhere in the region face may well be run-off from the mountains surrounding British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. The latest estimates put the snowpack feeding the Okanagan, Similkameen and Boundary basins at 150% of normal, the highest in the province. “The run off is just starting now, and it’s affecting a lot of people,” said Ted Kane, principal of River Stone Estate Winery, set on a knoll above the Okanagan River.

While his vineyard hasn’t been affected by run-off, which remains localized, he knows many people who have been. An evacuation order is in place for properties along the key route to Pipe Dreams winery, where runoff overflowing an unauthorized dam a mile upstream has washed out the road. Pipe Dreams’ tasting room is closed, but manager Brian Fehr is tending the five-acre vineyard, where bud break has moved through Gamay, Zweigelt and Grüner Veltliner into Merlot. Removal of second buds is in progress.

“We’re trying to maintain it so that in a month and a half, two months, when they perhaps get the road opened, the vines aren’t totally destroyed,” he told Wines & Vines. “We’ve got some effects, but nothing that I think is going to be long-term.”

The road to Secrest Mountain Vineyard, a 50-acre property acquired this week by Okanagan Crush Pad Winery of Summerland, is not affected. However, the winery’s Garnet Valley Ranch vineyard in Summerland has a new watercourse from this year’s runoff that hasn’t been seen in more than a decade.

‘We’ll be hustling it’
Okanagan Crush Pad principal Christine Coletta said the snowpack delayed preparing of an additional 30 acres for planting. Typically, planting would be complete by the third weekend of May, but that’s when it’s set to begin this year. “We’ll be hustling it,” Coletta said. “The good news is that we’ve got everything else in really good shape, so as it stands right now we’re on top of our game.”

The warm temperatures that have raised flood risks aren’t unseasonable, however.

Summaries of growing degree day accumulation in April by federal viticulture researcher Brad Estergaard of the Summerland Research and Development Centre, released May 2, report a total of 42 (Celsius) for the southern Okanagan through April 30. This is slightly behind the 20-year average for the month of 50. Summerland saw an accumulation of 22, versus the 20-year average of 28.

Kane, at River Stone, said his Cabernet Franc vines experienced bud break April 25, with the rest of his varieties breaking in the days that followed. “Our spring is on track — slightly late, but nothing that’s out of the ordinary for me,” Kane said. “We’re not the earliest ever, we’re not the latest ever, we’re more like what’s normal over the past 16 years.”

Good conditions in Washington, Oregon
Similarly, growing degree day accumulation in neighboring Washington has started off strong, with 88 at the Prosser research station through April 29 versus 81 in a warm year. Red Mountain is furthest ahead at 133, while Puget Sound — where the mountains saw snow as late as 10 days ago — is at 35.

Speaking from the Yakima Valley, however, Co Dinn of Co Dinn Cellars in Sunnyside, Wash., said the season is unfolding per historical norms. Bud break is on track, and soil moisture is good but not excessive. Spring frost has not been a concern. “For all intents and purposes, it looks quite normal,” he said. “I don't see a particularly warm or cool spring so far or in the forecast, although the next week is projected to be warm. I foresee an excellent vintage!”

Cooler conditions prevailed in Oregon, but April showers are indeed giving way to May flowers, with Edward Burke, viticulturist at King Estate Winery in Eugene, Ore., reporting, “gorgeous displays of camas, flag iris, fawn lily, and Western buttercup” in the fields surrounding the vineyards he oversees.

The majority of vines had broken bud by April 22, and hillside plantings of Pinot Noir have been going gangbusters.

“We are well into bud break now, with fairly rapid development due to the conjunction of high levels of soil moisture coupled to the very warm spring temperatures last week,” he said. “In the most advanced blocks we’re as far along as the second or third leaf unfolding from the shoot.”

Temperatures at the estate have pushed into the low 80s some days, with 78 growing degree days logged as of May 1, similar to the range seen between 2012 and 2015.

Vineyard growth is also picking up in Southern Oregon, where Joey Myer, the new viticulture manager with A to Z Wineworks, said shoot thinning is in progress thanks to a blast of hot air last week. “[The] burst of heat pushed out significant growth in most sites, enough to begin shoot thinning and officially kick off our growing season activities.”

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