S1 EP0006 - In the Vineyard

Our Bi-Weekly Look at the 2021 Vintage in the Finger Lakes Wine Industry, As It Unfolds - Bud burst!


We are in bud break!

After the cold and snow and quite frankly the big scare of April 21, we spent some time assessing the impact to the vines after that real cold episode. Remember we were off to a very strong start of this growing season, with higher than average temperatures, and lots of sun. In the wake of the cold of late April, temperatures have slowly begun to increase, and it doesn’t look like there are any deep freezes currently on the horizon. Overnight lows are still in the 30s, but our daytime temperatures are beginning to reach between 50 and 60, with some 70 degree days on the horizon.  May 4th was a beautiful warm day with a high in the mid 70’s, but between May 5 and May 10, we have barely accumulated any growing degree days.  Down at the winery, we have stood steady for the last week or so with a growing degree day accumulation of 121.6 since April first.  To put that in perspective, in a near perfect growing year like 2020, we had only accumulated 36.1 on the same date, which was actually pretty low on average.   Essentially, despite a roller coaster spring, we remain on track.  Truthfully, growing degree days are interesting to examine this time of year, but with so much of the growing season before us, they don’t mean very much to us quite yet.  If you’re confused about all this talk of growing degree days, check out episode 4 where I break down what these numbers mean, and how to calculate them.  

I often record these vineyard updates a few days in advance of the release of the podcast. As a result, our timeframe for these biweekly updates is pretty close to what is going on in the vineyards, but it’s not always exact as to the day of the podcast release. Since we last shared where we were in the 2021 growing season two weeks ago, budbreak has begun all across the region. When bud break occurs, the rate of development is not necessarily uniform on every vine, and different varietals have different rates of their early development. Furthermore the location and a variety of other factors will contribute to exactly when budbreak in a vineyard will occur. In our vineyard I have noticed that the Chenin Blanc is much more advanced than our Cabernet Franc. These two varietals are located on opposite ends of our vineyard. The Cabernet Franc sits towards the top of the slope, and the Chenin Blanc sits towards the bottom of the slope closest to the lake. Our decision to plant Chenin Blanc closest to the lake was really one of small variations in temperature. There has been concern in the Finger Lakes that Chenin Blanc it’s not as cold hardy as Cabernet Franc, and we wanted to get it as close to that large body of water as possible, to ensure that it would receive as much protection from Seneca lake as we could provide on the coldest of the cold days. So now, let’s take a look at exactly what is happening physiologically with the vine during bud break.

Bud break isn’t necessarily a single event, it’s a continuation of events in the lifecycle of a vine.  In fact, it’s the culmination of energy from the previous growing season, that has been preserved in the vine, and is unleashed as temperatures warm and sunlight increases throughout the day.  Due to temperatures and the long dark days we experience in the winter, the verdant growth of a vine would be impossible.  Amazingly, the vine is prepared for that.  Buds, which will emerge in the following year after dormancy, are developed in the previous growing season.  Throughout the winter months, carbohydrates are stored in the roots and the trunk of the vine, and a hard scale is in place over the bud to protect it.  The energy highway system within the vine, the xylem and the phloem, cease activity.  When the temperatures rise, growing degree days accumulate, and the  sun shines for longer periods of time, the vine is triggered to unleash the reserves of energy remaining from  the previous season, and to begin prompting the bud to begin the growing process.  The bud will swell and develop a fuzzy appearance, and the leaf primordia will  begin to push through the scale.  The growth is remarkable and rapid. 

The entire purpose of bud break is to begin the vine’s growth of leaves, in order to ensure photosynthesis can begin to feed the plant with a new reservoir of energy.  The leaves emerging  from the bud are the catalyst for this, and the growth is rapid to ensure that the vine can take advantage of achieving as much surface area as possible in order to maximize the amount of sunlight it can take in.  Bud break sets the stage for rapid shoot development, where the vine builds its ability to uptake as much energy as possible through photosynthesis, and ultimately, use that energy to ripen fruit.  

Amazingly, the flower cluster formation has already begun, though we can not quite see it yet. Within one to three weeks, we will be able to make out the very beginnings of what will become clusters, and ultimately the fruit we will guide into becoming wine. 

The lessons of life in the vineyard extend far beyond growing fruit.  Viticulture reminds us of the cyclical nature of life, the fact that to everything there is indeed a season.  A season for growth and a season for rest.  It reminds us that bounty can be followed by dormancy.  It sets a rhythm and forms a link between the events that happen in our lives, and the majesty that is nature.  Budbreak, or budburst, is the perfect example of that.  It carries the excitement of birth, of new life, of the promise that awaits us.  New life is springing up all around us, flowers are starting to blossom, the birds are laying eggs, the energy is palpable.  

If you like this podcast, please be sure to rate us 5 stars in Apple podcasts and like our videos on YouTube.  It really helps with the ratings and in introducing new folks to the show.  Be sure to tune in next week, where I speak with the incredibly amiable Paul Guglielmo.  Paul had a great career in radio, but left it behind to put all of his energy into growing his brand of pasta sauces based on his Italian grandfather’s recipes.  Our interview may not be about wine, per se, but his business insights, emphasis on family, and the passion to build something that will be a legacy certainly fit with our goal of defining and pursuing a good life.