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  • Jan Flynn

Breaking Bud

Pardon my photography, which is informed more by enthusiasm than focus as I’m walking the dog along our twice-daily path past the vineyards that border our neighborhood.

If you’ll indulge me: squint and look closely at the stick-looking thing in the foreground. It’s actually a pruned branch of a grapevine. See those whitish protuberances? That right there, dear reader, is the very beginning of this year’s bud break. Here in wine country, it’s the official harbinger of spring, and it’s a big deal.

Bud break could be called the starting point of the yearly vineyard cycle. Those pale little bumps, in a sense the birth of Vintage 2018, will look like this in a couple of weeks:

Yes, more of my unprofessional photography, and that figure in the distance is my husband, wondering why I can’t get a move on, but if you’ll squint a bit again you can see the bud beginning to unfurl its embryonic leaves. A few weeks later on, and the old zinfandel vines farther down the path will look like this:

By the time June comes along and the kids are out of school, the vines will have leafed out fully and will be sheltering clusters of baby grapes:

Again, squint. They’re there, poking straight up in their infant exuberance. By mid-to-late July, those same little clusters will have taken on volume and color, hanging earthwards, filled with weighty, promising juice:

And in due time, with an enormous amount of labor and expertise (most of which is invisible to the tourists that visit the valley as so much vineyard work takes place in the pre-dawn hours), the juice in those grapes will be harvested, crushed, barreled, blended and bottled, producing some of the world’s most renowned wines.

Also some of the world’s priciest. Reserve Napa cabernets can set you back anywhere from $60 to over $200 a bottle, which is why I rarely get near them. I buy most of my wine at Trader Joe’s.

Still, it’s a luxury to walk among these vines as they perform their annual miracle of transmuting dirt and sunlight into delicious, heady elixirs. It’s comforting and life-affirming to witness such natural abundance, calmly doing its thing as Molly and I walk along. Problems and alarming headlines simmer down in my awareness, losing their power to knock me off center — although I do feel powerfully inclined toward a glass of wine by the time we get home from our evening rounds.

Sometimes I pinch myself when I look around and see where I get to live. One annual highlight of living in wine country is volunteering at the Napa wine auction in late summer, a spectacularly fancy event that raises spectacular money benefitting a number of worthy causes. The work is hardly onerous: last year I handed out glasses (Riedel glasses, naturally) to guests as they entered — or to their fashionably dressed personal assistants (“Let’s see, we’ll need one for Francis, one for Sophia . . .”). It’s a hoot, and I get to keep the hat.

All that is to come, God willing. For now, with this year’s vintage only tiny fuzzy bumps on naked branches, I wish you joy and hope — and cheers.

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