Just because we're stuck in the waning days of winter and the grape vines remain looking a little drab doesn't mean there isn't a lot happening in the vineyard. Quite the opposite is true. The vines are just starting their annual wake-up period as they prepare for a new growing season ahead — but what does this actually mean? Well, to explain things better, we have to rewind a bit with some backstory to this Spring reemergence.
Towards the tail end of the growing season, as the fruit of the vine has matured and ripened, the vine starts shutting itself down for the colder months ahead. Shoots will stop growing outward and all foliage will slowly start to dissipate. This process is called acclimation. By the time the growing season has fully stopped, and all the leafy canopies are gone, a grape vine can appear as just a trunk and a bunch of bare "twigs" sticking out of it. During this process of dormancy, most energy reserves of the vine retreat into the trunk and are stored, ready to be expended to start new growth when the weather warms.
Fig. 1 - A spur-pruned vine ready for the new growing season. The thick, horizontal extensions of the vine are called cordons.
The "twigs" of a dormant grapevine are actually called canes and they represent the previous year's growth of the vine. To ensure proper management and intended grape yields of many vines, canes are removed in the early part of a new year with two main types of pruning. Commonly there is spur pruning and cane pruning; similar in appearance but completely different in technique. Spur pruning typically involves removing canes along the cordon of the vine, which is an extension of the vine's truck that runs horizontal along a fruiting wire and perpendicular to the ground. Cordons also can be differentiated from canes because they are older growth, at least two years of age or older (whereas, as previously mentioned, canes represent the growth from the previous year). In contrast to spur pruning, cane pruning is completed by removing the cordons, or two-year growth, and letting select canes remain to be supported along a growing wire. There are multiple advantages or reasons for using either type of pruning, but the result is all the same: to encourage new, vibrant, and managed growth for the year ahead.
Fig. 2 - A grape vine pruned using the cane pruning method. Notice the fungicide on the pruning wounds.
Regardless of the pruning style, making pruning cuts in a grape vine can always leave the plant susceptible to contracting fungal diseases. Fresh, open cuts should always be sealed with a fungicide compound to ensure the vine's health and vitality, both for the season ahead and for the many growing cycles in its future. As seen in the image above, most grape vines receive a dose of fungicide on their pruning cuts to protect them.
After the vines have been pruned, pruning cuts have been sealed, and other various duties have been performed, we start playing the waiting game for the warmer, Springtime weather to start the transition of seasons. While we wait, if we look closely at the spurs and canes, we can start to see the once-dormant buds starting to swell and signal their first signs of activity. Energy that had been stored in the vine's trunk starts to make it upward to offer encouragement for the buds to make their big push. Come mid-March, in typical years, the phenomenon known as bud break hits the California wine industry. The occasion signifies a special moment, a rebirth or reset for the vineyard and for the farmer that tends to the vines. Any prior pains or frustrations from the previous harvest are washed away once these tiny green leaves start to emerge from their winter hiatus.
Fig. 3 - One of the first buds of the season has already broken loose, officially commencing the growing season ahead. This is our Muscat that always seem to be a few weeks ahead of the other varietals in the vineyard in terms of buds coming out.
For as exciting as Spring and bud break is in the vineyard, there is a lot of work that goes into prepping for a new year and growing season. For us working in this landscape on a yearly basis, there is never truly a day off. Something can always be tended to, fixed, coddled, or sworn at. Such is the life, and while it isn't always glamourous, the coming of Springtime always makes things worth it.