Grapes

Look fast. Ninety-five percent of Napa County grapes have already been harvested, Napa Valley Grapegrowers reported Thursday. 

J.L. Sousa/Register

With 95 percent of the grapes in Napa Valley already turned to juice, this year’s harvest is expected to be completed by the middle of next week, speakers at the Napa Valley Grapegrowers Harvest Season news conference said Thursday.

The season was a bit of a roller coaster, said Allison Cellini, a Renteria Vineyard Management viticulturist. “There were some challenges. We went in worried about the drought, but we received early rain in February, which resulted in early bud break, similar to 2013.”

There was also the 6.0 magnitude earthquake, which caused damage to certain wineries, but wasn’t enough to shake the grapes off their vines. Similar to the 5.2 magnitude earthquake in 2000, dry creeks have started to run, which shows “we’re sitting on a lot of water,” said Garrett Buckland, vice president, Napa Valley Grapegrowers and Premiere Viticultural Service partner.

Another hiccup was a fluke hail storm the last week of September, which could have been potentially devastating, but the more delicate grapes had already been harvested and the thicker-skinned varieties that remained on the vine survived unscathed.

“We were also gifted with a late heat spike which was the perfect push for growers hoping to get sugar levels up,” Cellini said. The heat also led to a push to get the grapes in at night.

The valley didn’t see too many mornings with lingering fog, and no late season rain, so there was no problem with rot, said Paul Goldberg, vineyard manager for Bettinelli Vineyards.

The early harvest allowed winemakers to be flexible when they wanted to pick grapes, “and if you think of the winemaker as an artist, it allowed for all the paints on the palatte, to play with flavors and levels of sugar and acidity,” he said.

Goldberg also commented on replanting activity. About 6 to 7 percent of vineyards are being replanted, compared to only 3 to 4 percent normally, which he attributed to a growing economy, and the fact that a vineyard’s life cycle is 25-30 years. So it’s time to replant vines planted in the 1980s.

He predicted greater quality and sustainability, with vineyardists saying “we get a chance to do it different now, knowing what we know after 30 years.”

Growers are also investing more in technology, with remote monitoring and weather stations. “It allows us to make great decisions for individual vineyards,” Goldberg said. More vineyards are also using optical sorters, which can be programed to sort out unwanted grapes, which will lead to more quality wine, he said.

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Speaking to labor, Goldberg said the NVG Farmworker Foundation has been formalized. The Foundation supports workers with education through viticulture and language classes. “We realize they are on the front lines and drive quality,” he said.

The NVG has also focused on the ongoing drought, providing growers with seminars and programs giving them tools to successfully change management techniques in the direction of sustainability and water reduction, Buckland said.

Looking into his crystal ball, Buckland predicted smarter and more efficient ways to deal with pests, disease and the weather, resulting in major strides in quality and sustainability in the Napa Valley.

“If this is the new normal, we’re happy,” he said.

For more information, go to napagrowers.org.

The date of this conference was incorrectly reported in the original posting. 

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