As we near the end of what is turning out to be a picture- perfect Napa Valley harvest, I wanted to take this opportunity to share a brief summary of the season.
The harvest began this year in early August as vineyard crews brought in the first fruit of 2016. While no year in the vineyard is the same, 2016 represents what many growers consider to be a fairly “typical” Napa growing season with evenly distributed rainfall, the right blend of cool, foggy mornings, warm days, few extreme spikes in temperature, hardy canopy growth and average yields.
Timely rains and water-wise practices
The 2016 rainfall was both adequate and timely for saturating vineyard soils and recharging groundwater. Reservoirs around the county started the season full and Napa County’s most recent water availability analysis noted that groundwater supplies are relatively stable.
Rainy days were spread out evenly over the course of a warmer-than-average winter. While immediate drought conditions appear to have improved and the state has begun loosening water-use restrictions, Napa Valley growers continue to promote and implement water-wise practices in their farming operations.
Throughout 2016, growers participated in highly attended Napa Valley Grapegrowers sessions focused on topics that included climate policy trends and opportunities for the wine industry, advancements in irrigation, application technologies that conserve water, carbon sequestration, dry farming, and many others.
Vineyard work throughout the year
Harvest time in Napa is one of the most labor-intensive and exciting parts of the growing season. Harvest is also the culmination of months of attentive farming and hard work on the part of Napa Valley’s vineyard workers.
Following pruning, the warm winter brought early bud- break and rapid canopy growth, leading to a need for increased canopy management in many vineyards.
We can often see increased mildew pressure in years with lots of canopy growth, and so, close attention was paid to disease pressure and additional canopy work was often done to improve passive disease control.
One of the hallmarks of the 2016 season was that we did not have to farm in a “reactionary” style. The best vintages are the ones where we are able to get key work done in a timely manner and be proactive, not reactive about the way that we farm.
Bud-break and bloom
Much like the last four vintages, bud-break was earlier than normal in many areas. While 2015’s yields were reduced by significant swings in temperature during bloom, 2016 offered better conditions during this key period. Starting in late July, veraison, when grapes begin to change color, was generally slow yet evenly distributed as a result of foggy mornings and cooler temperatures.
Many growers have finished picking on the earlier side, as was also the case in 2012 through 2015.
You may have noticed more bins filled to the brim with grapes over the past couple weeks, as a result of recent warm weather and impending rains. This has triggered a rush to the finish for many operations throughout the valley, just as most red varieties are reaching their optimum level of ripeness.
Many growers have also noted the ability this year to pick at lower brix. Less extreme temperatures during the season have allowed grapes to develop mature flavors, elegant phenolic structure, all at lower sugar levels, while still retaining vibrant acidity, complexity and balance in the finished wines. Growers expect the 2016 vintage to generally be lower in alcohol, with nice aromatics, and a well balanced mouthfeel — an exciting vintage to be sure!
In many respects, harvest is the finale to a year’s worth of work in the field. Many would describe every action in the vineyard as being directed toward this moment, when grapes begin their journey toward becoming wine.
As the fruit gets processed in the winery, we turn our focus back to winterizing our vineyards, planting cover crops, installing erosion control measures, and catching up on any much needed equipment maintenance. We turn our attention back to preparing for the next season, learning from what worked this year, what didn’t work, so we can be constantly improving our sustainability and our wine quality.
Successful grapegrowing requires a long-term vision, commitment and the innate desire to constantly learn from and improve everything that we do. Vineyards in Napa Valley embody the history and tradition of this place—for growers there can be nothing sweeter than working as good stewards of the land and preserving Napa’s heritage for many years to come.