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Will Sonoma Showers Bring May Shatters?

“The pressure is on,” said Thomas DeBiase of Debiase Wines early this week. Pressure, that is, to get as much last-minute precipitation as possible before flowering. ”Every year is, of course, unique but starting this growing season off as the third driest growing season since 1850 has its own set of challenges.” Going into the week, DeBiase, who makes pinot noir in the Russian River Valley, was also concerned about the lack of frost protection due to shallow retention ponds.

But by the end of the week, some of those concerns, at least, were assuaged (assuming, of course, that the rains don’t last into flowering and cause shatter as they did last year). Healdsburg has gotten 7.5 inches of rain since March 13 and is expected to get another couple of inches this weekend.

“I was concerned at the beginning of March but now we should be fine,” says Denis Malbec, winemaker for Capture. Malbec (no relation to the grape) just finished pruning his vineyards on Pine Mountain, a high-elevation AVA above Alexander Valley, and is pleased that the cool, damp soil will help delay bud break.

Also in Alexander Valley, water was trickling, for the first time this year, down the terraced hillsides of Skipstone. Amy Schafers, the estate’s chef has been busy moving plants from the greenhouse to the garden. She is pleased to report that the irrigation pond was finally full and that the viognier was in full bud break. The baby doll sheep that do the mowing have barely been able to keep up with the growth of the cover crop.

Out on the Sonoma Coast, Nick Peay of Peay Vineyards is “ready for the rain to go away.” In general he sees bud break by mid-March. Today, March 30, he is only just beginning to see some swelling — a concern for a region that struggles in some years to ripen its Burgundian inspired pinot noir. But the reservoir is full and sun is in the forecast. “The days are longer, so even with the rain things are happening,” says Peay. He is just looking forward to drier ground so he can till under the vines for weed control.