The Willamette Valley is known for its excellent wine (even Time Magazine is giving us shoutouts these days, calling us the next Napa), and the region’s vineyards are bustling with activity during the spring months. Just look on winejobs.com and you’ll find lots of ads for tasting room jobs, but also for harvest workers come August/September.
Spring is an exciting time for vineyards because it marks the beginning of a new growing season. As the weather warms up (hopefully soon) and the days get longer, the grapevines in the Willamette Valley start to come back to life after their winter dormancy. This process is known as bud break, and it’s one of the most critical stages of the growing season.
During bud break, the buds on the grapevines begin to swell and eventually burst open, revealing tiny leaves and shoots. This growth is essential because it’s the foundation for the rest of the season’s grape production. In other words, a healthy and robust bud break sets the stage for a successful harvest later in the year.
However, there are some challenges that Willamette Valley vineyards face during the spring months. One of the most significant threats to a successful bud break is late frost. Frost can damage or kill the newly formed buds and shoots, stunting the growth of the grapevines and potentially reducing the yield of the harvest. Vineyard managers and workers must be vigilant during the spring months, monitoring the temperature closely and taking measures to protect the vines if necessary. We got lucky last year, when, after a late April frost, we experienced a long, warm summer that extended into October, and winemakers were able to harvest late. Some call it one of the greatest vintages in many years.
Another issue that can arise during the spring is heavy rain. While rain is generally good for the grapevines, excessive moisture can lead to problems like rot and disease. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, then you are, of course, already aware that we are experiencing heavier than normal amounts of rain this year. Temperatures remain below normal, and the Portland area with surrounding wine country has already seen over an inch more rainfall than normal within the first week of April. This means vineyard workers must be diligent about monitoring the vines for signs of rot or mold and taking steps to prevent the spread of these issues.
Despite the challenges, the Willamette Valley vineyards are typically buzzing with activity during the spring months. Vineyard workers are busy pruning and training the vines, preparing the soil, and monitoring the growth of the grapevines. It’s a time of anticipation and excitement, as everyone looks forward to the upcoming harvest season. We don’t think much about what happens to the vineyards throughout the year, but winemakers, cellar masters, vineyard managers, workers will tell you in no uncertain terms that a winery’s work is never done.