By the end of last week, we'd seen significant budbreak at the tops of our hills among early sprouting varieties like Viognier, Syrah, Grenache Blanc and (below) Grenache.
Budbreak each year starts the clock ticking on the growing season. It typically happens between mid-March and mid-April, depending on how cold the winter has been, and more specifically the dates of our last hard freezes. Like 2014, this year saw cold weather early in the winter, but starting late January it's been unseasonably warm. We did see temperatures drop into the high 20's in our coldest spots a couple of weeks ago, but even those nights saw our hilltops comfortably above the freezing mark. To give you a sense of where 2015 fits within the context of recent years, I went back to look at when we first noted budbreak each of the last eight years:
2013: First week of April
2011: First week of April
2010: Last week of March
2009: Second week of April
2008: Last week of March
2007: First week of April
So, we're more or less on track with last year, which was our earliest-ever recorded budbreak. Last year, because of how early things were, I wrote that we were dreading the frost season even more than normal. And this year is no different; we can have a frost here any time until mid-May, although every frost that has caused serious damage has come in April. But it's interesting to me to note that the two years in the last nine that have seen seriously damaging frosts (2009 and 2011) didn't come in years with unusually early budbreak. Hopefully, that bodes well for this year. The long-term forecast doesn't show anything particularly threatening frost-wise (though it also doesn't show any prospects for significant rain). But there's still a month at least of white-knuckle nights in store.
It's important to note that I had to trek to the top of our hill and look in specific varietal blocks to find budbreak. None of our Mourvedre, Roussanne, or Counoise vines are out, nor are even the most precocious varietals in low-lying areas, which did see early-March freezes. This gradient between the tops and bottoms of our hills will likely play out all the way through the growing season, as the earlier-sprouting areas will also see earlier flowering, earlier veraison, and earlier harvest.
But for now, budbreak is a hopeful thing: the beginning of a season of growth, and the beginning of our work that will come to define 2015 for us for years to come. Please join me in welcoming the 2015 vintage to Tablas Creek.