Here they come! This is a shot from our Syrah block showing that there's no stopping this train. Syrah is on the early side of the "budbreak" sequence, the time when the new growth pushes out of last year's dormant shoots. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay come first, Cabernet and Merlot a few weeks later. As you can see from the photo, there's still not a lot to do with the vine at this stage... or is there? A few little shoots? No big deal, right?
Ask a vineyard manager that question and they will usually get a little grumpy. The truth is, when budbreak happens, a whole array of things have to be in place for the growing season. Assuming that all the pruning is done, the first buds mean the first serious concerns after a somewhat leisurely winter pace. The two biggies are frost and mildew, not necessarily in that order. Most people know that Spring frost can torch all these tender shoots quite easily and the methods to stave off the danger involve cold nights sitting in a pickup truck watching the thermometer, ready to hop out and light the smudge pots, turn on the wind machines or sprinklers and/or all of the above. Bare ground is best for soil warming and lowering the height of the frost (cold air settles), so the field has to be mowed or tilled for the best prospects. Problem there is, it may still be too wet to not sink a tractor out in the field. Once sunk, they're really hard to pull out. Also, if you are a fan of good soil structure -- and who isn't -- you don't want to compact a moist soil if you don't have to.
The other danger is mildew, a winegrape's biggest pest. The methods for prevention need to happen early on or the nasty little spores will become intractable, forcing harsher measures to beat it back. Again, the issues with getting in to the filed become very tricky. If you have a cover crop, the chances for not getting a tractor stuck go down, but the field probably needs mowing first, etc., etc.
As you can see from this micro-view, Spring is pretty, and all, but it really forces a great many tricky decisions that require the greatest of expertise or you can lose a tractor and a crop in short order. This is a time when a winemaker is very happy to lay these problems at the feet of the vineyard manager, the flip side of the vineyard manager delivering a load of grapes at 4:00 and heading home. So, the moral of this tale is, if you want to be a "winegrower," pick your poison: cold and wet October nights pumping over or frozen mud on your boots and cold steel equipment on sleepless nights watching the day brighten but all...too... slowly. Sigh.