Growers in Washington are seeing bud break occur in certain varieties. The onset of the growing season looks to be historically early for some, even compared to the warm 2014 vintage.

“Bud break last year started April 5th, so we are certainly two weeks ahead of that,” said Ryan Driver, vineyard manager at Tertulia Cellars in the Walla Walla Valley. Driver has already seen bud break in Grenache at some of his vineyards.

Chris Figgins of Leonetti Cellar and FIGGINS has seen bud break in his Sangiovese at Seven Hills Vineyard. “I remember bud break in March before but certainly not March 15th!” Figgins said.

Driver said the early bud break would make for a nerve-wracking start to the growing season. “All it takes is one major freeze event in the Walla Walla Valley and we would be looking at some serious setbacks,” he said. The frost threat in Washington historically subsides after Mother’s Day weekend.

While Figgins agreed that frost was a significant concern, he said an early bud break also has advantages. “I actually like an early bud break,” he said. “When you start early you have a chance of being on-time.”

Figgins also noted that some sites had seen significant damage to the phloem, part of the plant’s vascular tissue. He said the early bud break would provide time for it to heal before temperatures start shooting up. “An early bud break gives us lots more time,” he said. “Two extra weeks right now is precious.”

In addition to the early bud break, some growers in the Walla Walla Valley are reporting frost damage from last November’s cold temperatures, which occurred before the vines had fully hardened off. “Our Whistling Hills and Riviere Galets vineyards in Walla Walla were at 90% bud damage,” Driver said of his sites located near the Northstar facility and in the Rocks District. He noted that he had buried canes to prevent a crop loss. Driver saw less damage in his higher elevation sites.

Figgins said that one of the family’s vineyards in the Upper Mill Creek area had seen some damage. “Our worst is about 50% in Merlot in the bottom end of our Loess vineyard,” he said. However, Figgins didn’t see this as a significant concern in terms of eventual crop load. “We won’t thin as much fruit. We’ll be fine,” he said.

While some might be inclined to think the early start to the growing season would lead to an accelerated year, Kent Waliser at Sagemoor Vineyards in the Columbia Valley said that was not necessarily the case. “Everyone assumes with the early season we will have mature grapes in mid-August,” he said. “Hold your horses, way too early to predict.”

Overall, Figgins summed up the thoughts of many about the season getting under way, saying simply, “Here we go!”

Picture of bud break in Sangiovese at Seven Hills Vineyard courtesy of Chris Figgins.