Chronicles of a Dirt Farmer: Budbreak


It’s here – or rather, it’s baaack. Bud break that is. And, well, it’s kinda early. But what did we expect with the driest year on record and just a couple of storms in February? Those degree days add up rather quickly when the sun is relentlessly shining.

Even after all these years, I get excited to see those shy, quiet buds swell to fuzzy white, blush pink, then slowly unfurl vibrant green leaves. It heralds the beginning of an ancient dance of leaf to flower to fruit that will be unveiled fresh for a whole new season.

budbreak on the vine

credit Debby Zygielbaum

Those new green shoots also signal the beginning of my busy season – my days spinning faster and faster, longer and longer, until we hit the sudden lull of veraison, drowsing in summer heat, resting a bit on our laurels and waiting for harvest.

It’s hard not to dream of the future, fret about the lack of rain and what it means for the year’s vintage. But all of that is not yet, I have to remain rooted in what is, even while I plan for what may be. The reality of now needs me to make sure the frost fans and frost alarms are primed (so they work when we need them to protect the fragile buds), we’re checking the sheep regularly through the day (lambs anytime now!), the tractors are serviced, the mowers and spaders ready to go (a lot of cultivating and mowing this year – no water and no sheep!). My crews have already been driving tractors busily through the vineyard this past week or so – chopping the prunings of last year’s canes, readying the ground to support this year’s crop.


credit Debby Zygielbaum

I’m eyeing the weather forecast and I fear that we are back to the never-ending-sunshine-rain-always-ten-days-out pattern. This means the window will be short to get cultivation done before the ground dries out – if I cultivate when the ground is too wet, I can smear and compact the soil, destroying 10 years’ worth of careful structure building (tilth). And when it’s too dry, I can’t even get the spader into the soil in some places due to the Carneros clay. This dry year, well-timed cultivation will also help those darling buds turn into happy, healthy shoots with enough oomph to ripen their precious fruit clusters all the way through harvest.


Debby Zygielbaum is the Vineyard Manager (or, as she’s fond of saying, ‘Dirt Farmer’), at Robert Sinskey Vineyards in Napa and a frequent contributor on Nopalize. She can be found @walkthevine on Twitter and Instagram.