Vine Budbreak Is Here – And We’re Worried. Here’s Why
Normally, we would be readying for our grape buds to break from their vines in late May. This is when vines awaken from dormancy, which protects them from the harsh winter. However, we’re now expecting our vines to begin budbreak as early as this week – a full month ahead of schedule.
In theory, it sounds like a good thing. A longer growing season would mean riper grapes, right? However, like all things in winemaking, it’s much more complicated than that.
Even though warmer weather is arriving earlier, cold snaps can still occur, which can abruptly kill our buds that are no longer protected from dormancy. Just last week, temperatures dropped as low as 30 degrees, which would have easily taken out our buds if the vines had opened.
Unfortunately, we have climate change to blame for this potentially devastating change, since no fruit, of course, means no wine. Throughout the last few years, we have seen bud break inch earlier and earlier, and we’re not the only ones. Burgundy, France lost a significant number of its buds during three years of the last six, and locally, New Jersey vineyards have seen huge losses, too.
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In 2020, one winemaker with 40 years of experience told us he had never experienced anything like it before. Here at Mount Salem Vineyards, we, too, lost much of our harvest that year.
How we manage
Us winemakers have some preventative methods to help avoid this catastrophic problem. We choose grape varieties that are not “early openers,” and we plant on slopes rather than valleys, where cold air pools.
Plus, if we know a frost is on its way, we can add heat to the vineyards through bonfires, smudge pots or even candles. We can also drive a tractor with a propane heater up and down the rows of plants, but this must be done between 2-8 a.m., which is no easy task.
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In the future, we can only guess that as the effects of climate change become more pronounced, the risk of early budbreak and a lost harvest will only increase. All we can hope is that our neighbors and governments continue to work to lessen the effects of climate change and – who knows – maybe a wine-focused mind will determine another way to save our buds.
For more information about Mount Salem Vineyards, visit us at 54 Mt Salem Road, Pittstown or contact us at 908-735-9359 or mountsalemvineyards.com.