Napa Valley Grapegrowers report: Quiet time in the vineyards

Winter is a special season in the vineyard — dormant, still and full of potential. Harvest is over, cover crops have been planted and erosion control measures are in place. It’s our one quiet season and a time to reflect on the challenges and successes of previous vintages and to begin planning for the next.

I’ve been a winemaker for 36 years, but a grapegrower for only 17. My husband Bill and I took the leap in 1993 after 20 years in Napa making wine when a 12-acre parcel became available on Diamond Mountain. We’d always loved the wines from this part of the valley and, even though we could only plant two and a half acres, it seemed like a great opportunity.

Winemakers talk a lot about wines being “made in the vineyard” but until we had watched the vines through a few cycles — gotten up at 3 a.m. for frost protection, dealt with picking around sunburn on a portion of the vineyard and found voles literally eating the bark of the vines in our organic vineyard — did we begin to get an idea of how true a phrase it is. Vigilance is our watchword and quick reflexes our most valued ability. (Yoga helps!)

I’m constantly amazed by how much preparation is required to be adaptable to changing conditions. We control what we can: analyzing soils, selecting varieties, clones and rootstocks, deciding when we plant and designing trellising and pruning systems to optimize what we know about a site and what we want in the bottle. Ultimately, however, the seasonal impacts of climate, weather and environment play a big part in the outcome, and the grower has to be prepared for anything. So how do we stay prepared?

As growers in the Napa Valley, we are blessed with a high-value crop and stable work force. In large part because of the high value of our crop, we are constantly raising the bar on farming practices and work is pretty much year round. Our agricultural workers are highly skilled and among the highest paid in California. With the stakes this high, it is critical that we do everything possible to maintain and increase this level of professionalism in our workforce.