Napa Valley is known for its innovative, qual-
ity-driven wines that stand among the best
in the world, and the region’s vintners are
known leaders in viticultural innovation as
well. Perhaps because of the great diversity
of soils, unique climate niches and good-na-
tured competition within the vintner commu-
nity, these variables strongly influence grape
growers in the Napa Valley and give them the
opportunity to make myriad decisions and
refinements to their grape growing practices.
There are many factors to consider when
determining the right grape variety and the
best practices for the location being planted.
Take a wine grape like Cabernet Sauvignon –
and grow it in different areas – it will taste a
little different depending on where it’s from.
For a winemaker, blending grapes from dif-
ferent vineyards means being able to make a
wine of greater complexity.
Another way to create a unique, distinctive
wine is to focus on a single place or single
vineyard. Winemakers in Napa Valley have
become famous for doing both – creating
beautifully blended wines from many sourc-
es, and creating distinctive wines from a sin-
gle grape source: think Martha’s Vineyard or
To-Kalon.
Napa Valley has become synonymous with
Cabernet Sauvignon. The majority of Napa
Valley winemakers produce it. Yields of Cab-
ernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley appel-
lation are generally 1.5 to 4 tons per acre. The
grape accounts for just 12% of California’s
grape harvest, but in Napa Valley, it’s king
accounting for 40% of harvest tonnage and
nearly 60% of the value of overall wine grape
crop.
But, thanks to the many diverse growing con-
ditions, all kinds of grape varieties flourish.
Conditions are well-suited for growing not
only cooler weather varieties like Chardon-
nay and Pinot Noir, but also warmer weather
Bordeaux-style varieties such as Cabernet,
Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Sauvignon Blanc.
A ton of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
grapes are generally capturing four times the
statewide average price for a ton of Cabernet
Sauvignon grapes. Napa’s quality is reflected
in its grape prices and its continued demand.
Most winemakers subscribe to the philoso-
phy that quality starts in the vineyard. Napa
Valley vineyards are intentionally farmed to
produce low yields to allow only the healthi-
est of grape clusters to mature. Throughout
the growing season, the canopy is carefully
managed, usually by hand, to ensure optimal
sunlight to shade ratio and fruit develop-
ment. Vineyard workers will tend each vine,
on average, more than twenty times during
the year—a far different ethic than just a few
decades ago when the popular practice was
“prune, sucker and pick.”
VITI CULTURE
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