There are annual milestones we look at that help us gauge the progress of each harvest, of which flowering is the second. Budbreak (when the buds sprout) is first, but unreliable in our climate as an indicator of harvest time because of the frequency of spring frosts. Veraison (marked by color change) comes in July or August, and typically means we're looking roughly 45 days to harvest. And, of course, first pick and last pick, at which point you've set the dates that will define your vintage.
Flowering provides our first indicator of harvest dates, though there remains a great deal of variance that will be determined by the crop levels and our summer weather. The typical rule of thumb suggests 100 days from flowering to harvest, which we've found to typically be an underestimate in our cold-night climate. But figure a little under four months, and you're probably around an average for us. That suggests that we're looking at harvesting some of our early grapes (think Viognier, here) around late August, with the harvest unfolding after that.
Grapevine flowering is not particularly spectacular. The flower clusters assume a fuzzy look but otherwise don't show any particular color. A few photos will give you an idea. First, a view of several Grenache clusters, in context of their vine:
Next a close-up of Grenache, in full flower. Note the little white fuzz, which are the blooms.
Grenache is early to sprout and early to flower, but takes an unusually long time between flowering and veraison, and between veraison and harvest, so while it's at the same stage as Viognier (below) now, we expect to harvest a month later than we do Viognier. Note also how much smaller the Viognier cluster is than the Grenache cluster. That won't change.
Finally, a photo of the other grape I found in flower, Marsanne. Marsanne isn't quite as early as Viognier, but is close.
At the same time as these grapes are in flower, we have varieties like Roussanne and Mourvedre that are just getting fully sprouted. As you might expect, both of these grapes bring up the rear of harvest, typically not coming in until mid-October.
The vineyard's health looks terrific, and the flowering (which can be disrupted by rain, excessive heat, or strong winds) seems to be proceeding under good conditions, today's few unexpected sprinkles notwithstanding. It's been breezy, but nothing too extreme. It's been cool the past couple of days, but no frost. Next week is supposed to warm up, but doesn't look like it's supposed to get dangerously hot.
From these early indications, we're expecting an early harvest, similar to last year's. If we can replicate 2013, we'll happily take it.