Vineyard ‘Aphrodisiac Perfume’

Grape Cluster Flowering

Last year about this time, when grapevines were beginning to flower, we wrote about the sex lives of grapes — how they are hermaphroditic, self-pollinating, and the flowers are, according to the decidedly unromantic Jancis Robinson, “unattractive” and “unspectacular.” But what is sex without love? This year we are feeling quite amorous about our just-blossoming [...]

Looking back at the 2012 grape-growing season

The 2012 growing season in the North Coast was, in many respects, nearly perfect. Shot in vineyards across Napa Valley, Lake County, Mendocino, and Sonoma County, this is what it looked like. After a dry winter, much welcome spring rains saturated the soil and filled reservoirs. The primordial clusters that were nestled in so many [...]

All Things Being Equinox

bud break 2013 at Benziger in Sonoma

Bud break came early this year. Real early for some. Reports began coming in from some of the warmer parts of Napa Valley and Carneros as early as mid-February — as early as some some remember. Phil Coturri, who farms vineyards up and down Sonoma Valley, remembers his mentor Joe Miami telling him tall tales [...]

Will clusters rot or dry out? On Friday, the clock begins ticking

wet grapes

On Sunday night, October 21, 2012, it rained. It rained and rained and rained. Mushroom foragers are happy. Gardens are happy. Gardeners are happy. Even the vines, as they sigh away their leaves and settle into dormancy, are happy. As Chuck Mansfield, the winemaker for Hop Kiln Winery in Healdsburg, tells it, “This moderate rain [...]

To Pick or Not to To Pick? That is the Question

picked

For all of September, harvest was happily humming along in most of Wine Country with truckloads of grapes arriving in the early morning hours at crush pads almost daily — chardonnay, gewürztraminer, pinot noir — and the smell of fermentation hung sweetly in the air. But in Napa Valley, there was one thing that wasn’t [...]

Sauvignon Blanc Hits Crush Pads

Sauvignon blanc grape pick

What does sauvignon blanc mean to you? Is it grassy and herby and does it smell slightly of cat piss? Is it rich and tropical, even creamy, with hints of oak? Minerally like a river bed with mouth-watering acidity that screams out for seafood? Or is it sweet, lush and honeyed, served in a delicate [...]

Birds in the Vineyard

good morning, handsome

For most of the year, the vineyard is a great place for birds. The nooks and crannies created by canes and cordons make for perfect nesting spots while the lush canopy overhead provides much-needed shade and protection from predators. The soil is a genuine buffet of creepy crawling critters – from insects for the starlings [...]

Harvest 2012 Begins With a Bang

Mumm staffers celebrating the first grape harvest or 2012

On Friday, Aug 10 at 11 a.m., a rubber-boot-clad army of eager employees gathered on the crush pad of Mumm in Napa Valley to welcome the arrival of the first grapes of 2012: pinot noir from the Gamefarm Vineyard in Yountville. Winemaker Ludovic Dervin celebrated the beginning of harvest by sabering a bottle of 2003 [...]

A Brief and Miraculous Moment

A Beach in Indonesia. Photo by Spencer Humiston

On the Indonesian island of Bali in SouthEast Asia, there is a brief but miraculous moment that occurs at the end of each day. Just as the sun begins to set below the horizon but before it gets dark, the tide recedes and miles of sand between the sea and the land, wet and perfectly [...]

The Art of Fruit Thinning and the Quest for Balance

dried grapes

This week, many grape berries throughout our little corner of the world reached a very important milestone in their steady march towards becoming wine. Veraison (French for ripening), when grapes begin accumulating sugar, color and phenolics is a welcome sight for growers. For starters, powdery mildew is no longer a threat and  grapes start to taste like [...]

Waiting to Exhale

bwgrapes

Take a deep breath. Now, hold it. Now keep holding it. Seriously, don’t exhale! Keep holding your breathe. This is what the second week of July, 2012 feels like in Wine Country. And no, it isn’t because we’re driving through a tunnel, free-diving for abalones or watching the heroine in a horror film fumble with [...]

Permission to Bitch Slap a Winemaker

vrgrapes

The grapes are looking very vulnerable, very exposed this week. Long, cool, foggy mornings throughout Napa Valley and Sonoma means that leafing has been especially aggressive on the morning side of the vines. As we head into veraision (just a couple weeks away, according to John Wilkinson, a member of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers and a grower [...]

Vines Still Happy, But Slightly Stressed

vineswater

“Things are moving fast out there!” reports viticulturist Kevin Skene from Sonoma. Warm weather continues this week in all areas “shortening the window to get passes in” according to Matt Hardin of Barbour Vineyards in Napa Valley. “The conditions are warm, tracking perfectly, and are shaping up to be as great as 2008,” says John Conover, the General [...]

It’s a Jungle Out There

junglejungle

“The foremost important decisions about winemaking happen before a single berry even makes it into the winery,” says Greg La Follette of La Follette Wines. Right now, during the time of “berry cell division and berry cell expansion,” (or the first phase of berry development, which immediately follows bloom and lasts for about 4 weeks), decisions [...]

Warm Days, Cool Nights: 2012 Off to a ‘Normal’ Start

vines at night

Now that fruit has set, following and documenting the  development of grapes and vines (a study known as phenology) begins. The overall goal for growers between now and veraison is to allow enough light and airflow through the canopy to begin developing flavors and tannin in the skins of the grapes while also protecting the [...]

Managing the Canopies of Happy, Vigorous (And Sometimes Smiling) Vines

speckling and fruit set

From Amador to Oak Knoll, we are reporting “happy vines” this week. And as they say, happy vines make for happy farmers. And happy farmers with happy vines make for happy grapes. (For one grower “long happy tendrils” makes him think the vines are smiling. Isn’t that adorable?) And happy, smiling grapes make for happy, [...]

Reaching for the Top (Wire That Is)

Reaching For The Wire

Wow, there is a lot happening in the vineyards this week. In fact, “this is the busiest time of the year,” (next to harvest, of course) says Matt Hardin, of the famously fastidious management company Barbour Vineyards. Shoot thinning, spraying, disking (turning cover crop into the soil), mowing, replanting, tucking shoots and taking petiole (leaf [...]

The Sex Life of Grapes

Anther fully extended

Flowers are everywhere in the spring in Northern California. On the sides of roads, in the cracks of sidewalks, between the rows of vines, clutched between your teeth. Roses are in full blush, patches of wild poppies dutifully perform their open-close routines with the rising and setting of the sun and the slutty manzanita bushes [...]

Anderson Valley Special: Suckering and Sunflowers

savoy-suckered-pinot

It’s difficult to make generalizations about the Anderson Valley. Even though it is only 18 miles long and less than two miles wide, the climate is vastly different from one end to the other. Temperatures tend to drop dramatically as you head north on 128 (and towards the coast) to what is called the “deep [...]

Primordial Clusters and the Fractal Geometry of Nature

primordialcluster

Thanks to temperatures that were pushing 90 degrees last weekend, vines in Napa Valley experienced a whopping four inches of growth according to the Napa Valley Grapegrowers, whose members gathered at Round Pound Estate on Wednesday to discuss the 2012 vintage. Yield, as usual, was a hot topic. Jon Ruel, Director of Viticulture & Winemaking [...]

Let the Countdown Begin

Buds Broke

According to winemaker Aaron Pott, who has worked in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Napa, the growing season, almost invariably, is 220 days from bud break to harvest. That means the clock has started ticking and it’s time for some good old-fashioned heat and sunshine. Pott, who has noticed a climatic pattern toward later bud break over [...]

Water, Wind and Fire Fight Off Frost

Smudge Pots

After three weeks of nearly non-stop rainfall, it might seem strange to wake up and see sprinklers going off all over the Valley. Counterintuitively, those sprinklers are protecting the just-bursting buds from early-spring frost invasion. According to Tom Hsieh (pronounced shay) of Hanson-Hsieh vineyard in Oak Knoll, the water creates a layer around the bud [...]

Will Sonoma Showers Bring May Shatters?

mummy

“The pressure is on,” said Thomas DeBiase of Debiase Wines early this week. Pressure, that is, to get as much last-minute precipitation as possible before flowering. ”Every year is, of course, unique but starting this growing season off as the third driest growing season since 1850 has its own set of challenges.” Going into the week, DeBiase, [...]

Waterloggerheads

morton_fullxfull.259666386

When it rains, as they say, it pours. And it couldn’t be more true for Napa Valley this week. According to Accuweather, St. Helena got over five inches of rain between March 14 and March 21st. Well, be careful what you ask for, because while some rain was sorely needed, we have seen some flooding [...]

Vineyard Report: Fast-Breaking News Flash Edition

We take you now to Courtney Humiston with another fast-breaking news flash. Courtney is in a vineyard in Napa Valley in the rain — wet, cold and miserable — covering the quickly developing story of buds growing on vines (with all apologies to our favorite little green muppet reporter).