Bud Break is Here!

Owner/Winemaker Adam Campbell was interviewed by the Yamhill Carlton Winegrowers about the magical time in Spring that we call bud break when months-dormant grapevines awake from their slumber and fuzzy little buds burst forth into leaves surrounding minuscule clusters of grapevine flower-buds. Here are excerpts:

“Bud break is the beginning of the countdown to harvest,” said Campbell, “while very exciting, it is also nerve-wracking in that we always have four to six weeks of worrying about frost—most seasons we get through this without any problems.” If the buds make it through those iffy early spring weather events, by mid-June they can flower, after which most winemakers breathe a slight sigh of relief. “100 days from bloom to harvest is powerfully accurate,” said Campbell.

Adam Campbell walking in vineyard at bud break in the spring with conifer trees in the background and green grass between rows
Winemaker/Owner Adam Campbell surveying bud break at Five Mountain Vineyard

Not every grape variety buds on the same timeline, however, so winemakers are balancing quite a bit as the growing season begins. Chardonnay buds first, followed by Pinot Noir and a week or two later you will see Pinot Gris and Riesling emerge. “Most sites in the Willamette Valley bud out within a 10-day window. I own vineyards that are very warm and some, like at our Elk Cove Estate that are extremely cool and they are all within that 10-day period.”

As for this year, the recent weather inspired quite a bit of worry from winemakers valley-wide after new buds were suddenly blanketed in frost in April, but there is still reason to be hopeful. First of all, no two sites are the same and many winemakers actually plan for extreme weather events when making planting decisions, “Elk Cove owns and farms 400 acres of Estate Vineyards on six different properties with wildly different soils and elevations so we have intentionally hedged our bets in terms of things like frost mitigation.”

Pinot Noir bud leafing out
Tiny flower buds emerging from a grapevine

Some buds did sustain damage from this years frosts, and as a result, yields are expected to be lower across the Willamette Valley. However, grapes deserve a bit more credit for their resiliency compared to other crops like apples and pears that often suffer the worst effects of frost and pollination issues, but that will not affect the quality of the wines produced. Some things can’t be helped, and that’s just the truth of farming, “We have been farming grapes for almost 50 years and this is nothing we haven’t seen before,” said Campbell. This year, bud break happened on time, but the extreme chill early in the growing season indicates that there might be a later harvest, which is just fine by Campbell, “I love picking Pinot Noir in cool October weather!” 

Could we be in for one of those classic Oregon harvests of old this year? Campbell strikes an optimistic tone, “2022 could be a magical vintage and we should know that definitively by the end of October!

Elk Cove Vineyards was the first vineyard and winery in what would become the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. Learn more about our home American Viticultural Area here.