February in the Arroyo Grande Valley is typically characterized by ample amounts of rain followed by green hills. But this February in the AGV, we’ve seen weeks of temperatures nearly triple digits followed by freezing this week. At this time last year, the vines were all dormant and we were at around 266 growing degree days. Checking Weather Underground this morning, we’re already at 443 growing days. At this date last year, we had received more the 27 inches of rain. It was an exceptional rain year, but the less than 3 inches of rain received so far in 2018 is beyond depressing.
As a result, the hills have not turned that familiar, almost electric neon green and we’ve experienced some early bud break. Bud break in mid-February is not great because of the chance it can be followed by cold weeks like this one. This week has been exceptionally cold with temperatures as low as 25 degrees in spots. The frost conditions damage the tender buds, severely deforming the growth that becomes plant shoots and fruit, so we use wind machines and overhead sprinklers for protection. The wind machines circulate air, pushing the cold air out of the plant zone. Meanwhile, the overhead water creates ice that acts as a layer of insulation over the plants. It sounds counterintuitive, but it is actually the better of the two methods.
My crew and I will be keeping a close eye on the vineyard blocks that saw early bud break, inspecting for any damage to the buds. A couple of us have been working through the night, turning on the wind machines and water to protect the plants. We’re all very hopeful that we will have a wet March, because it has been a very challenging February.