Now it's a race! The Sabrevois vines have broken their buds and the first leaves are popping out on the canes. This is very early, even for Sabrevois. This ridiculously mild winter, followed by what appears to be an extremely early spring has pushed everything out of dormancy a good month before our typical last freeze. Hopefully the trend holds and it's like this from here on out. A late freeze really does a number on tender new shoots and buds. I'm pruning as fast as I can and I'm leaving extra buds and longer than normal canes for this year's growth in case we do get a freeze and it kills the vines back. It happens.
The good thing about grape vines though is if you leave extra length to the canes you are pruning, typically the buds that are near the tips pop open before the ones closer to to the cordon and trunk. This means that by leaving extra buds near the ends of the canes, if you get a freeze, those might get killed back but the ones that haven't started pushing out new growth are still a little protected. It creates an extra step if you don't get a freeze and have to go back and prune a second time to get rid of the excessive growth, but it's cheap insurance.
I'm about half way done with pruning. I'm done with the Sabrevois vines and I'm almost done with the three-year-old Traminette. I'll be starting on the four-year-old Traminette sometime this week, and then go to work on the Cynthiana after that. Sabrevois is completely in full bud break now. The Traminette and the Cynthiana are a little behind but just about ready to go too. The longer it takes to finish pruning, the harder it is because once the buds start to swell and open, they're really fragile and are easily knocked off, essentially wasting a cane and leaving a gap where this year's growth should be. I'll have to be more careful while I prune to avoid knocking them off, which means no tugging and yanking on the canes while I prune. I'm hoping to be done with this by the end of next weekend. That may be a little ambitious but we'll see.
One little adaptive strategy that grapes have is that within every node where a bud pushes out, there's also a tiny secondary bud, and a really tiny tertiary bud that will push out if something happens to the primary and secondary buds. The only problem with this is that while the secondary and tertiary buds create new shoots that grow into canes, these buds are not fruitful so you don't get a cluster of grapes from this node (there are a few hybrids that do have fruitful secondary buds but none of the cultivars we are growing do this). So, a late freeze can do a lot of damage to this season's crop, but not necessarily damage the entire vine.
Hopefully we're out of the frost window and well into spring at this point. Hope-Hope-Hope...