Napa Valley is known for its innovative, quality-driven wines that stand among the best in the world, but most winemakers will tell you that quality starts in the vineyard also making the region a leader in viticultural innovation. The great diversity of soils, unique climate niches and good-natured competition within the vintner community allow vintners and growers to make myriad decisions and refinements to their grape growing practices to produce the best possible wines.
Napa Valley vineyards are intentionally farmed to produce low yields to allow only the healthiest 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 development. 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." To further advance viticulture technology, Napa Valley is one of the few — if not the only - premium wine regions to have a university experimental vineyard. The UC Davis Field Station in Oakville works exclusively to improve viticultural practices both locally and around the world.
Napa Valley Rocks: Viticulture
Viticulture - the process of growing grapes - is an inherent collaboration between people and place. This short video shares some of the secrets from the vineyard that help Napa Valley's grape growers and winemakers produce consistent quality wines, vintage after vintage.
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 — and it will taste a little different depending on where it's from. Napa Valley has become synonymous with Cabernet Sauvignon and the majority of Napa Valley winemakers produce it by varietal or fanciful name.
Yields of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley appellation are generally 1.5 to 4 tons per acre. The variety accounts for just 12% of California's grape harvest, but in Napa Valley, it accounts for 40% of harvest tonnage and nearly 60% of the value of the overall wine grape crop. 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.
While Cabernet may be "king" in Napa Valley, thanks to the many diverse growing conditions, all kinds of grape varieties flourish here. Conditions are well-suited for growing not only cooler weather varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but also warmer weather Bordeaux-style varieties such as Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Sauvignon Blanc.