At the start of 2016, unusually mild weather meant that lots of the grapevines in Napa Valley budded in mid-to-late February. The unseasonal warmth and the lack of rain fooled the vines into thinking it was two or three weeks later in the year than it was and so they kicked off early.

Most Valley winemakers agree that their schedules are between two and three weeks ahead, with many saying that 2015’s budding was 10 or so days ahead of normal as well.

This can make grape farmers nervous

Farmers are usually nervous about an early budding, because at this time of year, all it takes is a sudden frost and the entire crop of grapes can be nixed overnight.

It seems, however, that frost is passé these days, with winters warming up just as much as summers. Napa Valley farmers look after their grapes, with special equipment to protect them from frosts, but these huge fans and space heaters may end up on ice themselves if current trends continue.

What does this early budding mean for wines?

No-one knows! 2015’s wines were just fine, and farmers are usually OK with an early bud-break that doesn’t get frosty as it means they’re also ahead of schedule, including an early harvest.

An early budding means that farmers can spread out their work a bit more evenly throughout the growing season, as long as the vines grow and mature steadily. No-one needs to compress their schedule.

However, grapes might finish ripening a bit earlier with an early budding, which can be a problem in terms of quality. The grapes should mature during mild rather than hot conditions – autumn rather than summer. If grapes that reach peak maturity during October are ahead of schedule, then picking may need to be brought forward to prevent sudden spiking in sugar content. This could lead to sudden rushes to pick and occasionally the wrong decision could be made.

This is all speculation, as no-one’s really sure. What is certain, however, is that this is a trend that’s set to continue. You can’t help but wonder what climate change denier Donald Trump will do with his own vineyards…


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