Record early bud break in Napa Valley brings new worries

NAPA VALLEY, Calif. (KGO) -- In three decades, the viticulturist for V.Sattui winery in St. Helena has never seen a bud break in the first week in February.

Now, Martin Mochizuki has.

"I was shocked," he said. "Three of the last five years it has come early, but this?"

When a man grows grapes for a living, his bosses pay him to worry. This year, nature has piled on.

"The earlier the buds break, the more likely that they could be ruined by frost," said Mochizuki.

And, with a frost forecast for next week, that's a real possibility.

Nor is it his only potential problem.
In higher elevations like the Hibbard Ranch vineyard, Mochizuki and his boss Tom Davies have new concerns about water, or the lack of it.

"This reservoir is at one-third capacity," said Davies.

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The Hibbard vineyard grows chardonnay, Pinot, Cabernet and other varieties. "The creek feeding it is bone dry. We're already considering dry farming and aggressive trimming to reduce the amount of crop."

Davies and Mochizuki describe these conditions as a radical contrast in comparison with last year.

"Twelve months ago, it was so muddy we couldn't get in here," said Mochizuki.

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"Last year, the soil was so wet that we didn't water until mid-summer," added Davies. "Otherwise, this reservoir would be dry."

"Which would you prefer? This year or last?" I asked Mochizuki.

"Last," he said. "No contest."

Now, add the element of last October's firestorm, which burned down the surrounding mountains and took some grapes in the process. "Green grass has covered the burn," said Davies. "Whatever we're dealing with it, today is nothing compared with what we survived. It's farming."

Wayne Freedman will have the latest on this story starting at 4:55 p.m. on ABC7 News. Click here to follow him on Twitter.

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