Magic happens every year in the vineyard: the bleak, doldrums of Winter and frost-filled mornings are whisked away with the emergence of Spring and the blossoming of new growth on the vines. Known collectively as "Bud Break" in vineyard-speak, this is the time of the year where the previously groggy, dormant vines are slowly awakened from their winter hibernation to begin another growing season. While this phenomenon is not uncommon in a lot of perennial plants, the occasion is usually a cause of excitement in the wine industry because it means another harvest is only a few short months away.
During the midst of winter, if you look at a bare vine you will notice little notches that run along the length of each existing shoot, or branch, that almost look like knuckles. These "knuckles" are the buds of the vine that will eventually spring to life once the threat of frost has passed and warm weather starts to take hold. In Carneros, bud break usually occurs in mid-to late March, but it can happen as early as February during mild winters and as late as April when the weather is slow to cooperate. Once bud break does happen, you will notice that a previously barren vineyard landscape will suddenly transform into a vibrant scene full of bright green, baby grape leaves. Sometimes it feels like this process happens overnight, but in truth, that is not the case...
Above: New growth starts to emerge as the vines come out of dormancy.
The process of awaking a grape vine is gradual and can be similarly compared to the way our own bodies wake up in the morning. Very rarely do any of us spring out bed and are instantly ready to tackle the day. In most cases, we may need coaxing to pull the blankets off and wipe the sleepiness from our eyes. It's the same thing with the vines. Warming weather is the first signal to the vine that it's time to start waking up; as the outside temperature slowly rises, so does the water and stored nutrients in the vine trunks. When the vine believes that the threat of frost has passed, it will continue to push water throughout its limbs and towards the dormant buds, urging and invigorating them to come to life. Water will accumulate near the dormant bud and transform them from their hard "knuckle" state and into new, green growth. These new leaves will start their photosynthesis cycle immediately after emerging, giving the vine the energy to grow outward in the form of new shoots and a full, leafy canopy.
Over the coming weeks, small clusters of fruit will start to become evident on the vine, the fruit will grow and ripen, eventually be picked, and then the vine will start preparing itself for the slow decent into winter; preparing itself to do it all over again come next Spring. While this process is not grandiose and might even seem mundane to some, it is a cycle we have come to depend on and cherish on every year. After all, we owe our livelihood to this little bit of vineyard magic, and for that, we are eternally grateful.