Tracking dates of budbreak, flowering, ‘veraison’ and harvest tells a seasonal story
By MJ Daspit
In mid-August I put that question — “Will 2022 be a good year?” — to Rogue Valley wine grower Terry Sullivan. Sullivan mostly single-hands Upper Five Vineyard, a former pear orchard in the Wagner Creek area outside Talent. He put in his vines — sauvignon blanc, grenache, syrah and tempranillo — in 2003-2005 and was Demeter certified as a biodynamic site in 2018.
Sullivan keeps a yearly record of what he calls season milestones, noting the dates of budbreak, flowering, veraison (onset of ripening) and harvest. Budbreak is the point in spring when the vines emerge from dormancy and show their first tiny leaves and shoots. Later flowers appear that will form fruit after pollination. Veraison begins in late summer as the bunches of green grapes change to a ripe color — purple or gold, depending on the variety.
This year’s warm, dry winter produced an early budbreak, “Then everything stopped,” Sullivan notes. “We had all that rain, which was great, but the next interval is flowering and it was the largest interval between budbreak and flowering — like 79 days. And that was a very unusual springtime. It set everything back and reset the clock by a couple weeks. We’re just starting to see color in the berries and that is the shortest time period between flowering and veraison.” Upper Five is normally among the earliest sites to harvest, as early as the last week of August for sauvignon blanc. But because of the late flowering, Sullivan is projecting the start of harvest as mid-September. “The last time it was that late was 2012. It’s kind of a throwback year.”
Besides the timing of key vineyard events, 2022 presented growers with challenging weather conditions in the form of frost and hail. “We had two frosts here,” Sullivan explains. “Both did damage. The earliest one was when we were just coming into bud break. In my cold spots, a lot of the primary growth was killed — and that’s the growth with the highest fruit capacity.” Fortunately, grape vines will sprout secondary growth that will produce fruit, though not as abundantly as primary shoots.
Many vineyards in the northern part of the state were particularly hard-hit by frost. “There’s a big shortage of grapes this year around the state,” Sullivan notes. “The first frost that hit us hit them much, much worse. The pinot was out. It was tender so a lot of people have no crop. They immediately made calls down here, asking if anyone had grapes for sale.”
Hail can also be disastrous for a vineyard. Sullivan is thankful that the hailstorm that devastated some Medford vineyards at the beginning of July didn’t hit Upper Five. “Usually when there’s hail in the valley we get it, but we missed out on that one, thank goodness.”
Apart from frost and hail, Sullivan reports growing conditions this year have generally been good. “The spring rains promoted good fruit set, and allowed for a later start to the irrigation season. Water wasn’t an issue for me for the first time in two or three years.” The availability of irrigation means that instead of the reduced tonnage he saw in 2020 and 2021, his harvest will return to a more normal level. “The progression has been what I consider normal up to 2019. For our small property we average on the order of 11-12 tons. In 2020, because of really bad fruit set, we did eight. Last year, because of lack of water, we did just over nine.”
Will excessive heat hurt the crop? Sullivan says as long as the vines have sufficient water, temperatures of 100-plus degrees are not a problem.
Sullivan also mentions a non-agricultural issue. Bottles have gotten hard to get and very expensive. “It’s been a wild-wild west to get glass the last couple years— not only ‘can you find it?’ but ‘can you afford it?’ It’s easily gone up 20-25 percent.” He reflects that his packaging cost could go up by 50 cents a bottle, enough to cause a bump in the cost to the consumer.
Summing up, Sullivan expects an increase in yield of about 25% over last year, along with excellent quality because of this year’s growth pattern. So, the short answer — barring any catastrophic events before harvest — is that things look good. It looks as if 2022 could be a stand-out year for Rogue Valley wines.