Water deficits consistently promote higher concentrations of anthocyanins in red winegrapes and their wines. However, controversy remains as to whether there is any direct effect on berry metabolism other than inhibition of growth. Early (ED) and late (LD) season water deficits, applied before or after the onset of ripening (veraison), were imposed on field grown Vitis vinifera "Cabernet Sauvignon", and the responses of gene expression in the flavonoid pathway and their corresponding metabolites were determined. ED accelerated sugar accumulation and the onset of anthocyanin synthesis. Both ED and LD increased anthocyanin accumulation after veraison. Expression profiling revealed that the increased anthocyanin accumulation resulted from earlier and greater expression of the genes controlling flux through the anthocyanin biosynthetic pathway, including F3H, DFR, UFGT and GST. Increases in total anthocyanins resulted predominantly from an increase of 3'4'5'-hydroxylated forms through the differential regulation of F3'H and F3'5'H. There were limited effects on proanthocyanidin, other flavonols, and on expression of genes committed to their synthesis. These results demonstrate that manipulation of abiotic stress through applied water deficits not only modulates compositional changes during berry ripening, but also alters the timing of particular aspects of the ripening process.