A mild winter, severe drought and a relatively balmy start to spring have gotten the 2014 growing season off to a fast start.

According to Wines & Vines magazine, bud break in Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties has occurred anywhere from several days to three weeks earlier than normal. Some growers are pruning vines to delay bud break, hoping to reduce the need to use valuable water for frost protection and save it for irrigation in what’s projected to be a long, dry growing season.

Though it’s still too early to predict the quality and quantity of the 2014 vintage, the magazine reported that most vintners contacted are optimistic about the caliber of fruit even if they do expect a smaller crop than the previous two years. In Oregon, the story is much the same, with bud break happening a week to 10 days early, leaving vintners nervous about the potential damage to vines in the event of spring frost.

The weather, especially the on West Coast’s ongoing drought, will be a major subject of the Wine Industry Symposium’s 19th annual Vineyard Economics Seminar, to be held in mid-May in the Napa Valley. Among the speakers addressing California’s water shortage will be Department of Food and Agriculture secretary Karen Ross, while other programs will deal with the application of new vineyard technology to save both water and money.

Some relief may be on the water front later this year with the return of El Nino, higher-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, which often bring increased rain and storms to the West Coast. So far, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center gives a 52 percent chance of El Nino occurring in late summer or fall, though how much rain it actually generates depends on its strength. Historically, a strong El Nino brings higher-than-average rainfall to California, though meteorologists aren’t venturing any intensity predictions just yet.