Sunday, December 30, 2012

Napa 2012 Trip

Before the year ended and while I have some downtime, I want to share a bit about the trip we took to Napa earlier this year.

It was at the beginning of May, so it was extremely early during the growing season as far as grapes go.  The temperature in the area was fantastic, and the humidity was low.  There were also some really nice cool mists that came up from the San Francisco bay area in the evening.  In other words, the perfect weather conditions for growing vinefera.

One of my favorite parts about the trip, was that I was able to talk to some of the winemakers and learn some of their methods for farming and winemaking. 

Emil Tedeschi of the Tedeschi Family Winery showed me how to graft a bud onto a new grape vine.  Using the method he showed me, you could have several varieties of grapes growing on one vine.  This next spring I plan on trying it out by maybe grafting a fruiting bud from our Regent grapes onto an older Cabernet Franc vine.  That way I may actually get some Regent grapes this summer.
At the Hendry Ranch Winery we got a tour from George Hendry, and he readily shared his experience and methods.  I got some great tips for cultivating the grape vines.  Secondly he demonstrated how tell if a barrel has "turned".  This particularly piece of information made me realize that the eight gallon barrel of Barbera I had in our basement had turned.  There's nothing you can do about it to bring either the wine or the barrel back.  Looks like we're going to use it for decoration now.

It was very obvious that in Napa, they really do have some of the best growing conditions for grapes.  Particularly when compared to growing vinefera here in North Carolina.  They don't have to spray anywhere near as often - in fact, some seasons not at all.  And they don't have the disease pressure we have in NC.  Spending time in Napa definitely taught me that I made the right call when I turned my attention to growing hybrids rather than traditional vinefera. 

I saw a variety of different wineries and vineyards in Napa, and a huge range in scales of operation.  The ones I think I relate to best are the small family run operations.  Simplicity is the key I think in that regard.  One of my favorite stops while there was The Summit Lake Vineyards & Winery on Howell mountain.  We met with Heather Griffin, who handled our private tasting.  The winery is small and family run.  They've owned the property there since before California wines became popular.  They have some fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel wines and were the one winery in which we joined their wine club.  Not just because the wines are great, but also because of their story and the experience we had while visiting.

I visited Lodi while in the area, mainly to get a chance to see where the grapes I purchased in 2010 were from and to taste some of the local wines.  While I didn't visit the precise vineyard our grapes were from, I did get a good feel for the area.  Lodi in comparison to Napa is quite warm.  It doesn't benefit from the cooling mist from the SF Bay.  Therefore their grapes ripen much earlier and reach much higher sugar levels.  The grapes that thrive in Lodi are Zinfandel, Barbera, and oddly enough Carignane.  Jessie's Grove had an excellent Carignane (a grape not normally on its own in a wine) from vines that were extremely old.

I also visited some Sonoma wineries.  In a lot of ways the wines were similar to Napa wines with a few diferences to note.  Pinot Noir I think is better in Sonoma.  The Cabernet Sauvignons have a little different flavor.  On the last day of our trip we drove to Alexander Valley.  We even visited the Alexander Valley Vineyards.  My favorite wine at Alexander Valley was suprisingly a Cabernet Franc.

I wish I could have written this sooner, I probably would have remembered more details.  We will have to visit again though, and maybe next time I'll blog during the trip.