To make wine is to try and exert some small measure of influence over a natural process in the hopes of creating something unique and special. But like all agricultural products, it is really nature that sets the tone and defines the starting point for any given vintage. 2019 has had an interesting beginning, with rains coming later in the season than most years. Napa is best known for the Bordeaux varietals we grow, so it’s easy to forget that in Bordeaux rain can be a factor at any point during the growing year. Here in California we benefit from early season rains that help get the vineyards going and then a long dry summer where we are able to guide the progress of the vineyards. But that doesn’t make us immune from the occasional weather-related challenge like this year’s late precipitation.
The primary consequence of this additional rain is that the vines got off to a particularly exuberant start, using the available water to focus on growing their leaves and branches. While not inherently bad, this additional canopy and the rains that sponsored it create an environment where various fungi could potentially take hold. We rely on the outstanding managers of the vineyards we work with to monitor our blocks and adjust their care as needed to ensure we get a healthy harvest. Some are taking additional preventative measures, leaving winter cover crops in place longer to help draw out some of the additional water and reduce the vines’ vigor.
The only genuine risk to the vintage is rainfall while the vines are blooming. Rain that is too hard or that comes at an inopportune moment can damage the fragile flowers and deprive us of the grape it would have become. It’s possible we’ll see less production this year, but it’s too early to say for certain.
What we can say is that it has been a beautiful, if slightly challenging, start to the growing season. An excellent reminder of all the miracles of grape growing and the special privileges we enjoy here in the Napa Valley.
Gustavo A. Gonzalez