Napa, July 1st 2015
The Growing Season through June
The 2015 growing season got off to a very early start, thanks to a warm and mild winter. Most grapevines in Napa Valley woke from dormancy about 3 to 4 weeks earlier than average. Early bud-break can be particularly troublesome due to the increase danger of frost damage. Luckily the mild weather continued through the spring, and there were no major frost events. Interestingly, the months of April and May were cooler than January and February, and grapevine development slowed as a result. The unusually cool weather in May lengthened the period of time when grape clusters are flowering and the fruit is set. At the time of this writing in late June, it looks like grape maturity is back to the average timing.
The California Drought
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you have likely heard a lot of news stories about the severe drought in California. Many agricultural areas, especially those that rely on runoff from the Sierra snowpack, will have to work hard to conserve water this year. Luckily, Napa Valley is in better shape than most of the state. While rainfall totals vary widely, even within the Napa Valley, we are currently running about 5 cm below historical averages. One very large storm last December filled the reservoirs and irrigation ponds, and it went a long way to replenish the aquafer that runs throughout the Napa River watershed. While Napa Valley is primarily an agricultural area, Grapes use significantly less water than most other crops.
While our water storage is adequate to get us safely through the year, grapevines are still feeling the impact of several consecutive years of below average rainfall. Because of the warm and mild winter, most grapevines woke from dormancy several weeks early. As the vines are in this early, rapid growth phase, the root tips will grow rapidly as well. With the hard and dry soils, roots struggle to find water at shallow depths and will grow downward to find water from deeper sources. All of this takes energy, and reduced vigor in the green shoots are a result.
Work in the Vineyard
In early summer, the green grape berries will gradually increase in size through July, before they begin to change color. While the berries are still developing, it is important to expose the clusters to additional sunlight. The extra sun exposure will promote the growth of additional skin tissue that will protect the grapes from sunburn in the hot summer months to follow. Grapes that face north and east will have more leaves removed to help them ripen. Leaves will be usually left on the south and west-facing side to help protect the clusters from the most intense, direct sunlight.
Grapevines have a lot of dormant buds hidden in the wood from previous years. Many of those old buds will produce extra, unwanted shoots called “suckers”. Workers will remove these extra shoots at the same time they remove extra leaves.
Work in the Winery
Throughout the summer months, the cellar crew is working hard to get the wines ready for bottling. For most red wines, that involves emptying the barrels and assembling blends. White wine blends will be assembled as well, and extra steps are employed to stabilize the wines to withstand hot or cold conditions in travel and storage. The bottling lines throughout the valley will be working hard all summer. Most wineries are now bottling the 2013 red wines and 2014 whites. Both vintages have been roundly declared as classic Napa Valley vintages. We couldn’t be more excited for things to come.