Budburst in the Vineyard… and why it’s so important
In the last few days, the social media channels have become full of pictures of tiny fluffy leaves unfurling on English vineyards – they call it budburst. It’s very pretty, but why does it matter?
Budburst as forecasting tool
Budburst is an important part of the annual cycle of the vines. Producers will have kept records of key dates, including budburst, over the preceding years and noting whether it’s earlier or later than previous years will help them to forecast critical dates, like flowering and harvest.
Last year, 2017, was one of the earliest budbursts that most people can remember, with “many vineyards, and especially those with early varieties, beyond the woolly-bud stage by the beginning of April.” so we can see that we are already later than that. Other factors will determine whether this is a good or a bad thing in due course.
Dangers that come with budburst
Over the winter, frosts have come and gone, causing no problem to the vines, which were previously “sleeping”. Once budburst has happened, though, the vines are very much at risk from frost.
Last year (2017), there was a lot of late frost, of a particularly damaging kind, This caused buds to be “burnt” and lost, which meant that they were unable to go on and produce flowers and thence grapes. Although what are known as secondary buds are produced, these will be fewer in number than the originals and since our marginal grape-growing climate means that it’s hard enough for grapes from first buds to get enough sunshine to ripen, even those secondaries that flower and produce grapes, will have a struggle to ripen.
So now is when “frostwatch” starts: weather forecasts will be studied and sensors in the vineyards will send text messages to wake people up and get them out to the vineyard if the temperature heads towards dangerous levels. The deadly days last year were 19th / 20th and 26th / 27th April. Right now the weather is unseasonably warm and for the sake of our future wine drinking, we have to hope that clement weather continues.
Budburst and vineyard visitors
For the vineyard visitor, budburst brings life and colour. Now is a lovely time to get out to your local vineyard, have a stroll around to put your tasting in context.
Lots of producers are releasing their new wines now, so you can be among the first to try them, too.
So What is Next?
As long as we get through the next little while without frost, the next big event is flowering which we will talk about another day.
As a rule of thumb, flowering is usually round about Wimbledon fortnight, although that was also early last year starting in the third week of June and pretty well finished by the time the tennis started in July.
Want to know more?
Ways of learning more about vine growing include reading – see Stephen Skelton’s harvest report from 2017 and Paul Olding’s book The Urban Vineyard is an excellent read too – the title belies both its relevance (what Paul learned from planting his small scale vineyard is surprisingly relevant to all vineyards) and its readability.
Illustration shows bud starting to burst at Albury Vineyard on 19th April, 2018
With thanks to Stephen Skelton for allowing us to share his report and to quote from it.
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