Budburst in the vineyard is one of those things that always brings a sense of wonder and amazement … Mother nature providing the raw material for creating the nectar that has been revered for centuries.
Budburst represents both renewal and hope. Renewal from a period of winter dormancy, when the vines appear to have shutdown and be near death. Hope is for the season ahead providing a good amount of rain at the right time, plenty of ripening sun and a negligible storm season.
Budburst occurs when the soil warms and the air temperature rises and the days grow longer. The sap flows in the vines, and the buds swell. The stored carbohydrate in the roots and wood of the vine provide the energy for this burst of growth. It is both beautiful and exciting to see vines transform in some minor way each day.
Budburst is the first sign of the vintage ahead, when the fluffy buds emerge. They progress from buds to shoots, to leaf emergence, to inflorescence, to flowers, and the final transformation into tiny bunches of grapes that slowly grow and fill out into juicy, flavoursome sweet berries.
Budburst can also be a risky time, when the vines are most vulnerable to damage from late frosts. Once the buds have emerged, frost can be disastrous, burning and effectively killing them. The 2017 vintage was extremely vulnerable to frost, because the winter was particularly mild and budburst came on during August. This year budburst has happened at the customary time of year, being September. There is always risk of a late frost, but the risk is reduced the later budburst occurs.
For us, the best way to protect the vines from frost damage is to make sure the plants have plenty of moisture, so that when (and if) ice crystals form on the buds and draw moisture, the buds don’t dehydrate. The most effective method of frost protection is to cover the plants to stop the frost from settling on them. An alternative method to minimise frost damage is to use a sprinkler system to slowly defrost the ice that has formed on buds.
Budburst has announced the growing season is here and the vineyard will be needing constant care. Every aspect of the vineyard, the soil, the posts and wires, the inner rows, the weeds, the vines, the pests, the canopy, keeping the vines fed and watered … there is plenty of work to keep a vineyard healthy and productive. Let’s see what this new season brings!