Background: Cabernet Sauvignon grapevines were exposed to a progressive, increasing water defict over 16 days. Shoot elongation and photosynthesis were measured for physiological responses to water deficit. The effect of water deficit over time on the abundance of individual proteins in growing shoot tips (including four immature leaves) was analyzed using nanoflow liquid chromatography - tandem mass spectrometry (nanoLC-MS/MS).Results: Water deficit progressively decreased shoot elongation, stomatal conductance and photosynthesis after Day 4; 2277 proteins were identified by shotgun proteomics with an average CV of 9% for the protein abundance of all proteins. There were 472 out of 942 (50%) proteins found in all samples that were significantly affected by water deficit. The 472 proteins were clustered into four groups: increased and decreased abundance of early- and late-responding protein profiles. Vines sensed the water deficit early, appearing to acclimate to stress, because the abundance of many proteins changed before decreases in shoot elongation, stomatal conductance and photosynthesis. Predominant functional categories of the early-responding proteins included photosynthesis, glycolysis, translation, antioxidant defense and growth-related categories (steroid metabolism and water transport), whereas additional proteins for late-responding proteins were largely involved with transport, photorespiration, antioxidants, amino acid and carbohydrate metabolism.Conclusions: Proteomic responses to water deficit were dynamic with early, significant changes in abundance of proteins involved in translation, energy, antioxidant defense and steroid metabolism. The abundance of these proteins changed prior to any detectable decreases in shoot elongation, stomatal conductance or photosynthesis. Many of these early-responding proteins are known to be regulated by post-transcriptional modifications such as phosphorylation. The proteomics analysis indicates massive and substantial changes in plant metabolism that appear to funnel carbon and energy into antioxidant defenses in the very early stages of plant response to water deficit before any significant injury.