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Reviewed by EREZ GORDON

Cherry blossoms and the scent of jasmine at dusk signal the presence of spring with its unmistakable colour and light. These seasonal joys hold a deeper significance for our agricultural cousins, particularly the grape growers who inhabit the wine regions around Melbourne.

Over the winter months, after the last vine leaf has fallen and grapes are quietly working their fermented magic in the winery, the grapevines enter a period of dormancy. This time is crucial for vignerons and winemakers. All the vines, which produced fruit for the previous vintage, must have their canes and spurs lopped off, pruned back and wrapped down onto the trellis wires in readiness for the next vintage. In most cases this work is done by hand. A vineyard worker will stand alone in a field with a pair of secateurs rugged up against the cold and judge the best way to prune each vine. It is long, arduous work that can take the whole winter. During the pruning season these workers can only dream of warm summer days when the spindly leafless plant before them will stand with a bright green canopy and a treasure of plump ripe fruit.

There are different ways to prune a vine but in essence it requires the long canes to be cut back to just a couple of nodes at their base. These nodes contain the buds that will appear once the weather warms up. When this happens it is called budburst and it signals the beginning of the vine's growing cycle. In reality these nodes contain not one bud, but three. The central node is the important one and will prove to be the most vigorous and produce the best fruit. The other two are there if the first one fails. They are the primary bud's understudies, quite able to do the work but they will never perform to the same level therefore the welfare of the primary bud is all important.

As the springtime sun makes its presence felt and the average daily temperature climbs, the vines will begin to weep from their pruning cuts. (There is no need to draw any comparisons between this weeping and the whole Easter phenomenon that occurs in the Northern Hemisphere spring). This is the first sign of the vine's dormancy coming to an end and the beginning of the growth cycle. A little while later the buds will push their way past two hard scales that have protected them during the winter and emerge into the sunlight, wrapped in a furry brown cocoon as further insulation from the vagaries of nature. These small buds are the first delicate steps of a vine toward full maturation. The buds of different grape varieties have varying colours, some are carmine edged with grey or cream, some are green tinged with violet or bronze but all the new growth will change the winter aspect of the vineyard. The impact is breathtaking. All those involved in the growing of grapes eagerly await this time of year. As they describe the beauty of the changes it is obvious that more than just another moment in the life cycle of a plant is taking place. These small buds and shoots sit at the very heart of what it means to be a vigneron. "If you come up at budburst you'll see how amazing it looks,” says Bill Dhillon of Bindi Winegrowers, just south of Gisborne. "The buds look like green streaks running along the top of the trellis. It's wonderful to see."

A field of dark leafless vines transforms into a blanket of pulsing spring colour and promises a fruitful year and a successful harvest, but like any new life these buds are vulnerable. A clear night, a drop in temperature and a menacing frost is likely to roll over the vineyard, endangering the delicate buds. Vignerons will do anything to protect their embryonic harvest and have been known to have helicopters on standby to blow away any incoming frosts. Some wineries in areas that are particularly prone to frost will have stoves permanently set up between the rows during the danger periods, to change the temperature of the vineyard and avoid a frost settling. As a result the appearance of these small green shoots is an important part of the vineyard's calendar and something worth celebrating.

This year the Macedon Ranges will again celebrate budburst with a weekend festival on October 28th and 29th. Alan Cooper, president of the Macedon Ranges Vignerons Association and winemaker at Cobaw Ridge sees Budburst 2000 as a celebration of springtime and new growth. "The weather finally begins to improve and these small, family run wineries really start to look beautiful. It's the best time to show off the unique aesthetic of our region." Cooper feels that Budburst 2000 is the perfect opportunity to highlight the fact that Melburnians have a remarkable wine region only 45 minutes away from the CBD. “It produces unique wines, is a stunning area to visit and can be reached in less than an hour” he says.

The festival will involve 15 wineries including Hanging Rock, Rochford, Straws Lane and Virgin Hills. The focus will be on wine, food and entertainment and will include Walter Burke of Walter's Wine Bar cooking pizzas in the wood fire oven at Cobaw Ridge and Caterina's Cucina e Bar serving Northern Italian fare at Knight's Granite Hills winery.

While visitors are eating and drinking their way through the best the region has to offer they will be entertained by all manner of performers including jazz bands, gypsy minstrels, Irish musicians, guitarists, vocalists and puppeteers. To add action and variety there will also be llama walks, kite flying and petanque, the only sport you can play while holding a glass of wine. On Friday night Hanging Rock Winery will host a black tie dinner while Glen Erin are planning their 'Stargazing Dinner' out in the vineyard with a representative from the Victorian Astronomers Society on hand to guide diners through the starry Macedon sky.

Cooper adds, “it’s not as busy a day as some wine festivals which means that we get a chance to talk to everyone. It’s a great weekend.” The Macedon Ranges are impressive enough with their boulder strewn slopes and undulating countryside but the added colour of budburst and the promise of excellent wine and food is more reason to motor up there and make a day of it.