Spring is a very exciting time in the vineyard because it’s the beginning of a grape’s annual journey. The vines suddenly spring to life, seemingly overnight, going from dormant to alive and growing. This period is called bud break, and typically occurs in March or April. This isn’t the only important time of year for a grape (um, hello, harvest!)- a lot happens between bud break and harvest.
First up is bud break. As we mentioned, it typically occurs in March or April and is the first sign of life in the vineyard. The vines have been dormant for the last few months, storing up energy in preparation for their big reemergence into the world. The warming ground and spring rain have gently coaxed the vines into waking. Once the buds are filled to capacity, they burst open, revealing small grape leaves.
After the excitement and celebration of bud break, vineyards enter a busy period, which causes plenty of stress for grape growers and winemakers. Before grapes appear, the vines must get through flowering. During flowering, the vines grow at a fast rate, with leaves and tendrils spreading wildly. Bunches of tiny green balls called calyptras develop, containing the tiny flowers that will become grapes once they’re pollinated. Each flower has the potential to become a grape- if one is destroyed, the future grape is as well. If flowering goes well, the season has the potential to be epic, but it’s also a time when bugs, heat, and rain can tank the entire year.
After the nail-biting flowering period, the flowers form berries- this is fruit set. It usually occurs about a week and a half to two weeks after flowering. While the risks aren’t completely over, this is the first good indicator of how bountiful harvest will be. At this point, the grape berries are pretty small and extremely tart. They’ll grow rapidly for about another month or so before they go through the next stage.
For the first part of a grape’s life, red wine grapes look about the same as white wine grapes. Once the vines reach veraison, typically around late July, red wine grapes start darkening and all of them start to sweeten. All of the vine’s energy is put into helping the grapes develop. Harvest is inching closer!
About 1-2 months after veraison starts is the next exciting step for wine, although it marks the end of the grape’s life cycle. The exact harvest date depends on the grape, climate, local weather, and the style of wine that will be made. In warmer climates it may occur a little earlier so the grapes don’t lose too much acid and become too sweet.
Even though these stages occur at different times of the year depending on the grape and climate, all grapes go through this process on their way to becoming wine. It’s exciting, tense, and hard work for the growers, but all worth it when the wine making begins.