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In the vineyard: Budburst


Vineyards are places of events more than dates. Where most people set their calendar by the month, our timeline is guided by the annual procession of critical stages in the lifecycle of a grapevine – such as budburst.

This is just as well in inclement 2021. If we were doing things by the calendar, we’d be wondering by now whether we’d gained a month (or lost six) somewhere along the line. Fortunately nature will not be stopped and we have hit the all-important first milestone in this year’s vintage. Budburst has arrived at Oxney Organic.

This is a time of quiet rejoicing. It means the sap has risen and the vines are once again using all those stored carbohydrates to begin pushing out the new green growth that will become this year’s shoots, leaves, inflorescences and of course grapes.

Just a couple of weeks ago, all of that life was tightly packed into stiff, swollen little buds. Now it’s come bursting out of those buds… hence the term in question. Miniature leaves are unfurling, tiny tendrils are reaching out for something to ensnare; the vines are starting to anchor themselves as they prepare their heliotropic ascent towards the sun.

Early-budding Chardonnay and Pinot Précoce came first, followed by Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and finally sleepyhead Seyval Blanc. But before long, the latter vines will have hit their stride and overtaken the others, scurrying up the trellising as if they knew they were late to the party.

Talking of late, this year’s budburst has been unusually delayed by the odd weather. One fairly immutable rule of English grape-growing is that budburst comes before the end of April. This year it was mid-May for us.

Is this a problem? It may yet be. Delayed budburst can mean a delayed harvest. Depending on how the rest of the growing season pans out, we could be looking at late October before the grapes are ready to be picked. A torrential autumn could scupper those plans, meaning reduced yields (the alternative, underripe or rot-infested grapes, would be an unacceptable compromise on quality for us).

But these are all questions for the future. At this point, late budburst has been a blessing, as those tender little shoots were still safely nestled in their buds during the spring frosts. None of our vines has been hit by frost so for now at least, joy of joys, the vineyard is running at full potential to produce a bumper crop of healthy grapes.

Whether or not it ultimately does is in the lap of the weather gods – a precarious place to be in 2021. So we will continue to do our no-rain dances among the vines and hope for a dry, gently breezy spell during flowering and fruit set, in about eight weeks’ time.

That’s mid-July by your calendar. For us it’s the next big event.