The 2020 vintage has officially begun, and it is lifting spirits across the valley.
Finally, 2020 is starting to give me something to hope for. As new leaves and shoots emerge from once-dormant vines, my colleagues and I are using every spare opportunity to take in the beauty and importance of this important stage in a vine’s growing cycle.
Bud break starts as soon as the tips of new leaves, slowly growing inside buds of the vines as temperatures rise, become visible to the naked eye. Typically certain regions of the valley would experience bud break in late March, but over the past five years the leaves have appeared as early as the first week of February in the valley’s southernmost AVA of Los Carneros.
While the timing of bud break varies widely across cultivars, microclimates, and soil types, Napa Valley is seeing warmer temperatures in late winter, bringing the vines out of dormancy earlier than many wine growers would like. Early bud break risks frost damage to new leaves and shoots, and can reduce the yield of a particular vintage or variety drastically. Growers have a few tools and strategies at their disposal when it comes to preventing frost damage to fragile new growth. Huge wind machines, often powered by aircraft engines, dot the valley’s vineyards and often churn to life in the wee hours of the morning to move air around the vines and prevent frost from settling. I had the pleasure of living about 100 yards from one of these last year, and after being convinced that someone had started a fighter jet in my bedroom at 4 AM, I quickly moved to a more serene location so that my cat and I could each avoid having an early-morning heart attack.
This rather crude approach aside, most growers will agree that the best way to prevent frost damage is to delay early growth in the vines through responsible viticulture. Delayed or staggered pruning practices can help growers keep vines asleep longer, and the selection of well-placed sites for vineyards can lessen the chance for temperatures that are too low for the vines. For instance, due to a late pruning in January, our vineyards did not experience bud break until the last week of March.
So it’s time to breathe a sigh of relief folks. While we are expecting some rain and cooler temperatures over the weekend, the vines are looking great and our vineyard team has managed the frost well. We cannot wait to see what 2020 has in store for us next. It has to be really, really good . . . right?
Cheers folks, stay healthy out there!
Click here to view the Napa Valley Vintner’s vintage reports, and follow along with trends in the valley.