A sweet sweet-pea photo
I'd like to thank the Academy...

Budbreak is terrifying (but hopeful)

With the recent warm weather, we're starting to see budbreak in our earlier-sprouting varietals, particularly Viognier and Grenache.  A Grenache vine pushes, below:


As usual, we're seeing earlier budbread at the tops of the hills, which are less often frosted because the cold air slumps down the hillsides and settles in low-lying areas.  Many mornings, the temperature difference between the hilltops and the valleys is as much as 8 degrees.  Our hilltops tend to receive their last frosts in early April, while our valleys are prone to frosts all the way into May.  In fact, one morning last June, Neil Collins (our winemaker, who lives on the property with his family, in one of the lowest, coldest spots near the creek) emerged to find ice on his car.

Budbreak is a touch early this year; normally, we don't see it until the first or second week of April.  And this early start is plenty scary.  We normally get a few limited frosts in the second half of April, and are at real risk of a killing freeze in early April.  Neil doesn't really relax until Wine Festival, the third weekend of May.

One element we have in our defense against frosts is our frost-protection fan system, with which we blow cold air that has pooled in a low-lying area up a chimney, allowing it to be replaced by the warmer air that may be just a few feet above.  One of these octagonal fans is visible in the background of the photo below:


Budbreak does not hit the entire vineyard evenly.  Not only do the tops of the hills push first, but younger vines push earlier.  (As if we needed another reason to appreciate older vines!)  Below, a replanted vine is several inches out while the older vines on either side have barely sprouted:


At the same time, budbreak is hopeful -- a symbol of renewal.  Each year, you have the chance to make something you've never made before, and with the vineyard a year older than it's ever been, every expectation that your ceiling is higher than it's ever been.  So, you hold your breath and know that each cold night you avoid a major frost, the Northern Hemisphere tilts slightly more toward the sun, the days get a few minutes longer and you're one day closer to not having to worry through those cold nights.  Finally, two more photos, both of which (for me) catch the hopefulness of the season: