Bud break

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 30, 2016 8:57 PM

Bud break is a celebration of vines breaking open, with flowers that will eventually become grapes. It happens in spring, much like flowers blooming. If you're a winemaker, this is a very special time, allowing you to get an idea of what your potential yield for the year might be. This is the time you start to come alive too, if you're a winemaker, because this is when it all starts. For the past months, you've perhaps bottled and labeled. You've spent time cleaning barrels and tanks, and the warehouse-like rooms and floors where barrels and tanks are kept at a balmy and constant 50 degrees. You've entered contests and festivals, and you've waited. And here it is. Finally. The vines are coming alive after a dormant winter. 

We are budding winemakers. Our six vines are in the ground. We have not yet seen bud break but we're hopeful. Today, though, we went to experience another winery's bud break. Keeling Schaefer. Located about two hours south east of us. We are members of their club, the only one we've joined in Arizona; one of the few wineries in Southern Arizona that makes bold reds and we're all about the bold and the red. Their vineyard is located in Pearce. We'd never been to either Pearce or their vineyard. Their tasting room is in Wilcox, a tiny town a bit further west. At one point, it was a small booming town. Now, it's just small. Their tasting room is in the old Wilcox Bank & Trust building. The safe is still there and operational. We're members of the WB&T club so we get four bottles three times a year.

About a month or so ago, we got an email that they were going to be having a bud break party, and we were invited along with the other club members. The chance to roam through the vines and talk to the winemaker, not to mention sample the wines, was one we couldn't pass up. So this morning we cleaned the windshield, climbed into the otherwise filthy Range Rover and set off. 

Once we got off the freeway, we were in the land that time forgot. Broken down houses dotted the mostly flat landscape. There was a town called Dragoon. I looked it up later. There are 209 people that live there, and 10 hotels, none of which did we see. There were no stores, no cafes or saloons. There was a post office and a Baptist church. 

We cruised down Dragoon Road toward I-191 to I-181. Both roads were nearly deserted. Occasionally a car passed us going the other direction. There were towering trees to the left, green crops to the right. Pink and purple flowers marched up to the side of the road but didn’t dare cross. There was no cell service. We went by one house, a brown wooden structure with an old-porch. I remarked that it looked like little house on the prairie, but with cars. There were at least five cars in the backyard. 

We went by Golden Rule Vineyards and the Dream Catcher B & B, then turned right onto Rock Creek Lane. It was dirt and rock and washboard. A total disaster of a road, but it was lined with budding grape vines. We were smiling even as the dust was flying. 

There were at least 120 people at the vineyard. The winery was pouring all of their wines, as many tastes as you wanted, with a “lunch pour” of your choice for lunch. The winemaker, Rod Keeling, talked to everyone about the vines and the “buds” as we all stood in rapturous attention. There were barrel tastings of a 2014 Shiraz, one from a brand new barrel, one from a year old barrel. The difference was astounding. Kevin got the opportunity to talk one-on-one with Rod to get some pointers and to find out about buying grapes so we can make some more wine since our fledgling vineyard still has years to go. 

We bought six bottles of wine, and then it was 3:15. Time to reverse course and head home.

The sky was low and heavy – cloudy clouds – and rain specked the windshield and the now even filthier car. We were still smiling as we found our way back to the 181 and the 191 and then the 10 west, heading home. Once again, through the wilderness, areas just dotted with houses. We didn’t see a single person, only horses and cows.  

We’d met some wonderful people, tasted some phenomenal wine, discovered some new information. It once again affirmed our decision, and our commitment, and our love of the middle of nowhere, of wine, of buds breaking and of each other. It was a good day.

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