Dear Friends,
As you are probably aware, the 2016-2017 winter was one for the books!  After 5 years of drought, we got drenched!  We are looking at rain and snow totals 150-200% of normal!  With some flooding, but no major damage we came through this winter season as happy farmers!  The aquifers are replenished, the reservoirs are at 100% capacity and the wineries water reserves are completely replenished. 

The vineyards are looking very happy, with budbreak a few weeks later than normal, which was to be expected after this long rainy winter.  I was able to visit with some wineries/vineyards up and down the state.

Stephen Hansel from Walter Hansel winery said: “We measured just under 60 inches of rain since July 1. The vines have gone through bud break starting 2 weeks ago and would normally enjoy the moisture that is present. Most of rainfall is positive. Currently the vine velocity is high causing some drying out and also negating the presence of modest mildew. We will continue to manually work the vineyard and spray organic sulphur with backpacks if the wind stops and temperatures rise.The vineyard looks very good and with a dry spring and summer the vines will long forget a heavy rainfall winter.”

Piggig Matthis owner/winemaker of Sanguis said: “Though the last 5 vintages represented a continued “win streak”, both the vines and the entire ecosystem in our area desperately needed this cool/cold winter along with rainfall that is about 60% above “normal” – for us, that’s about 18-20 inches – for a much needed deep sleep and to leach the salts that accumulate around the root system out of the soil.

We are probably 2 weeks from bud break in most vineyards.  The later the better because in cool wet years like this, there seems to be a risk of frost well into April (as we experienced in 2011).  Fingers crossed!

Things are warming up now, with daytime highs occasionally in the 70s, and I expect that we will see quite a bit of vigor.  That means (a) a lot of work and good timing, and (b) the plants will behave very differently from the past 3-4 years and we’ll need to be on our toes.

But this is all good stuff so far – oaks are blooming like crazy and will throw lots of acorns, and other plants are behaving likewise – that means more insects and more food for all the critters that have been trying to chew on our lovely bunches of grapes, and less root competition for water (oaks are especially greedy when things get dry!).  

We expect all this to be of great long term benefit for overall vine health and that of the overall environment. And it will be a great vintage!”

Gary Lipp from Coho had this to say: “The Valley floor vineyards were a little harder to work in early-mid March, but as of a week ago they were looking “very happy” and we experienced only limited issues – especially after the record rainfall we received this year. The hillside/mountain vineyards on the other hand seem to have handled the heavy rains better as the soil drained very well!

My winemaker, Phil Titus is extremely pleased with was might be developing – although much later compared to the 4-5 drought years we experienced before.  I’d say we are a good 2-3 weeks behind that cycle, which means we are only a week behind the “old days” schedule.”

John Fetzer owner of Saracina/Atrea winery says: “People have frequently asked me these past few months, “What is all of this rain doing to the vines?” The answer is “nothing for us to be concerned about.”  In the winter months, the vines go dormant and are more resistant to cold temperatures and disease. The rain replenishes the groundwater reserves, which the vines tap into during their growing season. The main concern with heavy rains is erosion. That’s why we plant cover crops, like mustard, to help replenish the soil and prevent erosion. Though a rare occurrence, standing water in the vineyards for extended periods can damage the base of the vines if it does not dissipate.   Ensuring that the vineyard soil has adequate drainage and is sloped properly prevents this type of damage. Early spring dormancy also gives us time to prune the vines and prepare for the next harvest. There is rarely any downtime on the ranch.

A prolonged drought can really take its toll since too much stress on the vines will eventually kill them. On the other hand, it has produced some fabulously concentrated grapes for our recent drought-year vintages. We had been hoping for a little more rain here in California, and boy did we get it. Nevertheless, we’re singing in the rain!”

As you can see, this unusually wet winter is both welcome and challenging. I am looking forward to seeing how the vines adapt, and even more to tasting the next year’s production! Read more at and sample the wines at! And, as always, don’t hesitate to give me a call at 415-337-4083 if I can ever be of assistance to you or answer any of your wine related questions.

Gratefully yours,
Frank Melis