Never let it be said that I’m any kind of expert when it comes to the world of winemaking. I’ve always made sure whenever possible to remind folks about my constant learning – my knowledge of vines and wines before I moved to the Central Coast was close to nil.
Still, I’ve come a long ways and have had the ability to see and be apart of the entire process of grape growing and winemaking. Yet, I’ve never really thought about whether grapes pollinate because: well, I’ve never really seen anything resembling a flower on a grape vine before. So the question: Do grapes flower? Well, actual grapes don’t flower, but of course the cane’s shoots and therefore the initial buds and vines do flower … but you might never see it.
My father and I are helping a widow – and friend – care for her tiny vineyard (see more here). We had to figure out how to turn the water on for the drippers and while I was looking at the tiny clusters on the vines, I noticed they looked odd. I didn’t take a long time to study these somewhat wrinkled berries as I was busy trying to get the timer working.
Afterwards, I was back on my computer looking for answers to what might have been a problem with these little crinkled grape clusters. For mid-spring, we had an unusually hot week here in Paso Robles with temps in the 90s including one blistering 98 degree day plus, I was worried due to the fact the vines hadn’t been watered in almost two weeks.
What are those tiny things?
Maybe not watering that long did affect the vines but regardless, a long story short, the mysterious looking clusters were without a doubt flowers I was peering at. Grapes don’t have a long flowering period and in fact the whole thing can be over and done within a week’s time, however, these were flower buds, indeed readying to be grape clusters. Yeah, I’m a dork.
It may appear naive and somewhat silly to consider it a surprise that grapes flowered, nevertheless I had never seen them and don’t recall anybody telling me the process. I asked a couple friends here in Paso but they were not sure about flowers so I’m not the only one who is uninformed about the development of a grape.
The dilemma is the tiny grape clusters and their flowers. The understated if not downright obscure flowering of a blooming grape vine is vague and almost indistinguishable from the early grape cluster stage. It should be noted like many fruit, these tiny berry flowers usually self-pollinate and fertilize themselves. Also, bud break off the new shoots in North America usually occurs in March and takes almost two months before the flower clusters begin. Obviously, in the Southern Hemisphere, the calendar would be inverse.
There you have it. You may never see this almost minuscule process, but it is certainly not insignificant. Depending on the particular varietal and climate, this very short course of action takes place in April and May. Yes, there is a smell; so, if you ever are in a vineyard during spring, take a whiff and check out flowering on grape clusters.
And you’re now smarter than I was.
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Daryle W. Hier