The grapevines are awake throughout some of the best Napa Valley wineries, they have emerged from their slumber only to find a lingering winter and cool, rainy weather. I thought we were in California! This is the true beginning of the new vintage. The vines have been pruned and set up for this year’s crop. Now it is just a matter of producing fruit. That all starts with budbreak. That is when the newly pruned canes start to push out the tiny buds that will open, flower, and become grape clusters.
If the buds had the option of changing their minds and going back in the house, as the dog often does, the vintage would certainly face delays. But once the buds have poked out their heads it is too late. Mother Nature is on the march and it is time to start growing come hell or high water. This is the nervous season for most winemakers and vineyard managers. It is when the vines are the most delicate and susceptible to frost damage. You only get one chance to create a crop, and if that crop is damaged or disturbed during its infancy it can spell disaster and very small harvests. It is a multi-million dollar roll of the dice.
More than one winemaker has flown back early from a warm climate vacation due to the threat of frost damage. When the vulnerable buds start to bloom, before they start to form flowers, that is the moment of truth. Normally our climate in California is ideal for this segment of vineyard growth. We have early springs, warm days, dry, mild weather, and happy vineyard owners. But this year winter has lingered, rains have been stubbornly sticking around, and the weather has not been stable, calm, or predictable. The wind has been sporadically fierce, and you can see it in the weary eyes of the vineyard managers that have pulled all nighters to monitor frost threats, ready to pull the trigger on the frost protection devices at a moment’s notice. Growing grapes is not as romantic as it is made out to be. It is still an agricultural product, subject to the vagaries of weather even at the best Napa Valley wineries.
There is hope on the horizon. The steady march of storms seems to be waning and the harsh weather is subsiding, giving way to warmer sunny weather with less severe winds. We all collectively hope the stabilizing trend continues to improve so that we can move on to the next phase: the flowering and fruit set, when nerves get even more frayed since that is the most delicate stage for the burgeoning vintage. The flowers that form will bloom, and then give way to the fruit set of tiny grapes that will eventually ripen over the summer. But first, as the flowers are in bloom, that is when rain, wind, hail, and frost become the dreaded enemy. That is the moment when everyone here holds their collective breath. Exciting!
While all of this is going on be sure to stop by Cornerstone Cellars, some of the best wine tasting Yountville has to offer.