Storm coming in

Spring in the North Fork Valley — 2024 Edition

Spring enlivens the soul. There is something magical about witnessing brown give way to green. Of the landscape awakening. Warmer and longer days. Breezes that don’t chill you to the bone. 

There is no truer expression of spring than grape vine bud break. 

The buds begin to swell and eventually burst outward pushing leaves and new vine growth. In my 125 vine patch on Sunshine Mesa, Pinot Noir began first with Riesling not far behind during the third week in April. There is no better feeling or sight than walking through the vineyard with buds breaking at every turn.

Spring also brings renewal. An opportunity to set new paths. The implementation of approaches birthed from lessons learned in the previous growing season. Such lessons as evidenced and discussed in my end-of-season blog 2023 Lessons Learned.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, spring begs the question of how the winter season fared. 

As recorded by my Tempest vineyard weather station on Sunshine Mesa, we experienced a mild and dry winter. 

The lowest temperature was 5 degrees Fahrenheit, on January 16. Nights on either side of the 16th were ten degrees warmer. As a comparison, the lowest temperature in 2022 was – 1, and in 2023 3.6 degrees. 

North Fork Valley Average Temps 2022, 2023 and 2024
The start of 2024 experienced mild average temperatures compared to 2022/23.

Rainfall has been scant for the year through April at 1.7 inches—.6 inches of the amount fell over one weekend late in the month. Thank goodness the last quarter of 2023 ended strong with 2.4 inches. 

Rainfall totals do not count snow accumulation and associated moisture, which is not tracked by the weather station. There were two wet snows accumulating 3 – 6 inches that undoubtedly assisted vineyard water uptake.

Three Years of Rainfall in the North Fork Valley, 2022, 2023 and 2024
Note greater rainfall consistency in the last half of 2022 and most of 2023, leading to the drop-off in 2024—though 2022 and 2024 beginnings were similar.

As spring approaches, vine pruning is front and center on the task list. 

Using an approach called double pruning, the first pass in early April prunes back each upward-reaching cane to four or five buds. Grape vines push upper bud development and leaf appearance before the lower buds. If an early frost or freeze happens to time just right, the upper buds take the hit before the lower buds—potentially saving a portion of the harvest. 

A second pruning removing the upper buds leaving two lower buds occurs when the threat of frost or freeze is theoretically passed. 

The reasoning behind this approach is thoroughly discussed in this post by Penn State Extension.

Unpruned Riesling in early spring
Before pruning
After pruning Riesling in early spring
After pruning

Another spring task involves implementing solutions to issues experienced in the previous growing season. 

Time to execute operation Yellow Jacket. 

As documented in the Yellow Jacket Apocalypse post of last August, they had destroyed a percentage of my grapes leading up to harvest. The first essential deterrent step was deploying traps, to capture emerging Yellow Jacket queens as winter breaks. The queens emerge from their previous year’s nest with a ravenous appetite. Appetite satiated, they spawn the workers that in turn, destroy the sugar-gaining grapes in late summer. 

And they sting you no less.

I deployed 14 traps in late March along the vineyard wildlife fence, including several 50 feet away in nearby trees. There was no sign of the Yellow Jackets by mid-April. Then as if overnight, they began making an appearance. By the end of April, 24 queens were captured. 

How do I know they’re queens? They’re large, distinctively larger than the summer worker brood. 

Yellow Jacket Queens in Trap

Spring also meant it was time to tighten the trellis wires and think about summer irrigation. 

I hadn’t comprehensively tighten trellis wires last season, and many were sagging. Wires need to be tight and well-positioned to carry the vine canopy load summer brings. 

I’m also planning and hopefully implementing a test irrigation system, enabling the watering of the soil between vines and rows in one section of the vineyard. Currently, each vine is drip irrigated. Providing broader irrigation coverage enables vine roots to spread, and for a cover crop to take hold. 

As vine-related tending activities unfolded at the end of April, I had several helpful discussions with a local grower about different pruning approaches and challenges. 

His experience suggested the expected vine trunk life expectancy for Vitis viniferavines is five or six years in the valley. My Pinot Noir and Riesling are Vitis vinifera vines. At our elevation and part of the world, the climate and growing conditions pose significant challenges for long-term trunk health. This is the reason why local growers continually nurture new lower vine growth encouraging new trunk development.

Old Sonoma Vines
No, you won't see the breadth of vine trunk or cordon development in the North Fork Valley as illustrated by this example located in Sonoma Valley!

This revelation was soon to come home in a discovery I made in the vineyard in late April.

When observing the evolving bud break in Pinot Noir vines, it became clear many of my 4-leaf (four-year) trunks were possibly dead. I had encouraged new trunk growth for many of these vines, which were healthy with emerging bud growth. Researching the potential cause, Crown Gall came across as a probable culprit. 

Crown Gall is a bacterial disease, particularly in cool-climate regions. It can cause trunk splits and gall-like protuberances along trunks and cordons. 


This is a new development. The initial diagnosis is not confirmed. The investigation and long-term remedies will be an important endeavor this season. 

Stay tuned.

Crown Gall
Crown Gall

The two images above are the same vine. There is an older 3-leaf trunk and a new 2-leaf trunk—new growth I encouraged last year. At the moment, the older trunk is producing healthy buds along the growth wire. If left to its own devices, time will tell if the older trunk and associated growth diminishes towards the end of this season.

Constant discovery goes hand-in-hand with spring. If we don’t pay attention to what the environment is telling us and react with appropriate actions, we’ll pay the price in nominal returns and unwanted results. 

Spring is a great time for observation because everything is more visible, with minimal environmental distraction. You can observe each flora and fauna element as they awake and evolve in spring. 

Summer then rages, bringing with it explosive growth. From plants to animals and pests—large and microscopic. It is a greater challenge to discern all the evolving events of summer.

If the start of spring 2024 is any indication, I’ll have my work cut out for me this season.

See you in the vineyard!

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