June 24, 2016

New vineyard plantings.

Napa has about 45,000 acres planted to grapevines. And while this represents less than 10% of the county’s 500,000 acres (producing only 4% by volume of all the wine coming out of California), there is not much plantable land left. The valley floor is mostly planted and environmental regulations prohibit the clearing of trees and planting on most hillsides.

For the few remaining open parcels, there are some new vineyards being planted. Here is a rare plot of land in the recently designated Coombsville appellation (just east of downtown Napa) that has yet to be planted. In addition to vineyards, this area is dotted with horse farms and walnut tree orchards-a bit of the old Napa.


Vineyards seen to the left in the above picture were planted 2 years ago. This field has been unplanted for decades. In the background are the foothills of the Vaca Mountain Range-the eastern edge of the Napa Valley and the easternmost range in the California coastal range.




After “ripping” the field (a three foot hook is dragged through the ground behind a tractor to aerate and loosen the soil), the infrastructure for trellising and irrigation is carefully laid out. The tall poles are each hammered into the ground by hand and will support trellis wires and irrigation tubes. The smaller stakes indicate where vines will be planted.  The poles on the ground are end posts and will be driven into the ground with a machine. Everything else is done by hand.


IMG_1456Irrigation tubing is laid out with an emitter placed just over the spot where each vine will be planted. A hole is hand dug for each vine. This vineyard was planted with a dormant bench graft-the rootstock and scion (the fruit bearing part of the vine) are grafted in a grapevine nursery. The combination of rootstock and scion (fruit bearing part of the vine) is one of the many fascinating topics in modern viticulture.


bench graft


bench graft 1

These barren sticks are planted in each hand dug hole. It was about 90 degrees in Napa the day this work was done.




After the stakes are driven, irrigation tubing laid out, the hole dug and bench graft planted, another worker comes around and places a white protective sleeve around each planting, tucks the irrigation emitter tube into the sleeve and attaches the sleeve to the trellis with a plastic tie. The sleeve will protect the bench graft from critters and give it a chance to get established. It took 8 workers a day to plant this vineyard once the infrastructure of the posts and trellising were laid out.

If you can find plantable land in Napa, be prepared to pay up to $250,000.00 an acre-some of the most expensive agricultural land in the country. You can pay up to $300,000.00 an acre for established vineyards.

Once you own the land, it can cost about $10,000.00 and acre to plant a vineyard and another $2500.00 or so each year to farm the grapes.

In two to three years, these newly planted vines will produce fruit that can be used to make wine. Keep in  mind these are cabernet grapes and the wine produced from these grapes will likely be released to the market two to three years after the grapes are harvested. This could be the fruit that makes a 2019 vintage wine for someone…available to you in 2022…..

One of the things we hope you go home with after a trip with Pemberley Tours (in addition to some great wines for your cellar) is a new found appreciation for all the things that go into making a great bottle of wine!


June 4, 2016

Vines have flowered and fruit set comes after flowering.


IMG_1380Cabernet grapes just after fruit set. So far so good for the 2016 vintage!


IMG_1379Over the next few weeks, these little green BBs will grow into grapes. Seeds and juice will develop inside. The next milestone in the season will be verasion when the grapes take on color-red grapes go from green to purple and white grapes take on a golden hue.


Cabernet vines at Gargiulo Vineyards in Oakville just off the Oakville Crossroad between the vineyards for Screaming Eagle and Silver Oak. Looking southwest with Mt Veeder in the background.


May 25, 2016

As we come into what will be one of the busiest weeks here in the Napa Valley (Bottlerock and Auction Napa Valley), cabernet vines at Corison winery are flowering.


Grapevines are self-pollinating. As with any fruit, the grapes come behind the flowers.


One of the critical times of year for the vines-growers do not want rain, strong winds or heat spikes that can negatively influence flowering and pollination causing shatter-incomplete fruit set. For 2016…so far so good!




May 1

Hiking in Napa

There are many beautiful and secluded places to hike in Napa. IMG_1049



Here looking to the west just off the Yountville Crossroad. This short trail is only minutes from great wine tasting and more Michelin rated restaurants than you will find in one small town anywhere on the planet.IMG_1047 (1)


Along the Napa River in Yountville. IMG_1045 (1)





April 30, 2016


Cover crops.
Grape growers often cultivate specific plants in between vine rows depending on the needs of the soil. Wild mustard is seen al over Napa in the winter and spring. Here a dormant vineyard in the Coombsville appellation just eat of the town of Napa. IMG_4485

Another vineyard all the way across the valley to the west in the Oak Knoll Region. 145 2


Grasses are the most common-here you can see the rows where grasses have been seeded between vine rows. IMG_1009IMG_1016

Grasses are then tilled into the spoil to help with aeration (this particular spot is heavy clay soil) and to not compete with the vines too much or mowed.  IMG_1027

One common cover crop strategy is to alternate tilling and mowing rows. Next year the tilled row will be mowed and the mowed row tilled. Specific plants are often chosen to attract good bugs that will eat the bad bugs.


Legumes when tilled in can provide a lot of nitrogen into the soil. The most common seen legume in this are are fava beans. I came across this field a week ago on my way to Artesa Winery in Carneros. This vineyard was grubbed up long ago and lay fallow – expect for the rows of fava beans that had been planted between the vine rows long ago. While soil in a vineyard will benefit from lying fallow for a few years, the economics rarely allow for this. Once a vineyard is planted it can take up to 3 years for the vine to mature enough to produce fruit that a winemaker wants for a high quality wine.





April 6, 2016


Budbreak is well underway and vines are starting to push out shoots. The early varietals like chardonnay and sauvignon blanc show 2″-3″ of shoot growth while later ripening red varietals like cabernet sauvignon are just getting started.


We have a bright green Spring this year thanks to the much needed rains courtesy of El Nino. Streams normally dry during the summer months are running strong. The beginning of a flower


Mustard and other cover crops are blooming between the newly pruned vine rows.

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and the California state flower is in bloom all over.