Napa Valley Grape Growers Cut Roundup Use in Half, Evaluate Weed Control Strategies Amidst Shifting Consumer and Community Opinions
by Pam Strayer for Wine Business
The nation’s most prestigious wine grape grower organization, the Napa Valley Grapegrowers (NVGG), gathered in early November for their two day annual conference, Rootstock. Breaking with the tradition of covering many topics at Rootstock, this year the group featured just one subject–weed control.
The topic has stirred controversy in recent years.
A week later, Napa Green, the county’s prominent sustainability program, announced it would require its members to phase out conventional herbicides, including Roundup, by 2026, offering growers technical and financial assistance to support the change The program has 25 current members and 44 others who are in transition. Together they collectively farm 7,000 acres of vines.
The growers’ educational gathering was held amidst growing consumer concerns that glyphosate based herbicides, featured in front page news (in recent court cases and ongoing studies), inhibit soil health and affect human health. In Napa, some consumers then began asking vintners if they used the herbicide, which put the topic on some wineries’ radar.
“The Napa Valley Grapegrowers have never shied away from a difficult topic or an interesting topic for discussion within the industry,” said NVGG board member Dave Whitmer, the county’s former Ag Commissioner.
As the NVGG said in describing its Nov. 6-7 event on its website, “as consumers' and lenders' perceptions around herbicides shift, there is mounting pressure across the wine production chain to adapt farming methods…. as Napa Valley growers continue to strive for viticultural excellence, employing innovative practices is paramount to continuing to increase quality and sustainability in our vineyards.”
Press release by Caroline Feuchuk, Napa Valley Grapegrowers, and Teresa Wall, Napa Valley Vintners
12/4/2023 - Saint Helena, CA - Coming off the heels of the longest Napa Valley growing season in a decade, vintners are glowing with expectancy of the truly noteworthy 2023 vintage. Some have proposed it to be one of the greats while others claim it might be the vintage of a lifetime.
“Every century, every place has its legendary vintages. I have no doubt that 2023 will go down as one of the most phenomenal vintages ever in Napa Valley. Every vintner I’ve talked to about 2023 has been nothing short of ecstatic,” said Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible and Napa Valley resident in a recent video about the 2023 harvest.
Winemakers describe the wines as having freshness, purity and elegance overall with deep colored red wines and a full range of flavors from sites across the valley.
Higher-than-average rainfall kicked off the 2023 growing season, and grape growers reported full soil profiles with plenty of moisture, which led to a successful bloom. Due to cooler spring weather, the growing season began 10-14 days behind the 2022 season.
“The remainder of the growing season was a mild one. Cooler growing conditions meant extended hang time for grapes,” said Brittany Pederson, director of viticulture for Renteria Vineyard Management. “Knowing we’d likely harvest into November, it was our job to ripen the fruit and keep it protected long enough to hang through the extended time frame.”
Relatively cool weather in tandem with an abundance of sunshine allowed grape skins to ripen slowly and develop maximal dark red color components for red wines. With 2023’s long growing season, full ripeness of grape skins and seeds provided the building blocks for the red wines’ tannic backbone.
“Ripe, rich tannins are the wine’s source of resilience and provide the elements for a long-lived wine. The deep red color is a signal of a stand-out vintage, especially with Cabernet,” said Jim Duane, Winemaker at Seavey Vineyard.
Aside from Sauvignon Blanc, which was harvested as early as Labor Day weekend, most varieties ripened in October. This simultaneous ripening meant grape growers and wineries coordinated picks based on tank space in the cellar, and communication among partnerships was key. As always, everyone remained nimble, taking the challenges in stride.
“Every harvest we ‘add to our belts’, so to speak, as each one delivers a new experience and learning lesson. 2023 was no exception,” said Pederson.
With consistent, mild weather throughout the season, above-average crop yields, and extended hang time, grape growers and winemakers are reporting an exceptional, high-quality, memorable vintage in 2023.
A mild growing season has the Napa Valley agricultural community excited about the 2023 vintage:
LEARN MORE ABOUT NAPA VALLEY’S HARVEST
SOMM TV 2023 NAPA VALLEY VINTAGE REPORT
Watch the 2023 Napa Valley Vintage Report with winemakers as they get together to recap the harvest season and talk about the 2023 vintage. Airs Tuesday, December 5, 2023 on SOMM TV.
2023 HARVEST PRESS CONFERENCE: A recap of the season
Industry insiders joined together to discuss the 2023 growing season, timely topics related to Napa Valley agriculture and harvest. View the 2023 vintage recap on the Napa Valley Grapegrowers YouTube page.
by Kerana Todorov for Wine Business
Napa Valley’s growing winegrape season was late, with the fruit remaining on the vine for an additional two to three weeks longer than in previous years.
Growers gathered Wednesday for the online Napa Valley Grapegrowers’ 2023 harvest press conference also reported higher yields, fruit with little shatter and no late-season dehydration commonly see in warmer seasons.
The integrity of the berries’ skin was “just so fantastic” through harvest, said Justin Leigon, partner at Piña Vineyard Management. Weight was retained, along with acidity, he said.
“It was really a fantastic vintage,” said Leigon, whose company farms about 1,000 vineyard acres, mostly in the Napa Valley.
Overall, yields were 15 to 20 percent higher than average, he said.
On October 15, Justin Leigon, NVG Board Member and Partner at Piña Vineyard Management, talked about this year's harvest with KTVU. Click the video to view the full segment.
The Napa Valley Grapegrowers announces ROOTSTOCK 2023, to be held on November 6 and 7 at the Napa Valley College Performing Arts Center. This year’s event will focus on a central theme: weed management in the vineyard.
Though weed management in the vineyard is an integral part of the vineyard management system, there is mounting pressure to adapt farming methods to navigate public perceptions. And, as Napa Valley growers continue to strive for viticultural excellence, employing innovative best practices is paramount to increasing quality and sustainability in our vineyards.
ROOTSTOCK 2023 is open to the public, and the Napa Valley Grapegrowers hopes the focused format will inspire discussions in an open and collaborative manner. This year’s highlights include:
Who should attend: Viticulturists, vineyard managers, winemakers, enologists, vineyard and winery owners, students, and community members interested in learning more about weed management in the vineyard.
Single-day and two-day ROOTSTOCK tickets can be purchased online on the Napa Valley Grapegrowers website.
The Napa Valley Grapegrowers hosted its first symposium and exhibition, the Napa Valley Viticultural Fair, in 1990. Now, over three decades later, ROOTSTOCK has evolved beyond a tradeshow format, yet carries on the tradition of delivering top quality education and resources to the wine industry.
**BAAQMD permits open burning beginning October 1, however, CALFIRE can extend burning restrictions beyond this date. Best practices encourage waiting until after harvest and the rainy season to preserve local air quality and protect grapes.**
NVG's Low-Smoke Burning Technique & Other Alternatives
Permitted burn season runs from October through April. One of the easiest and most cost-effective alternatives to smoky burns for growers to implement is NVG’s Low-Smoke Ag Burning Technique. Use NVG's step-by-step manual available in English and Spanish to reduce black carbon, preserve air quality, and conduct virtually smoke-free burns!
Burning is an essential practice with no alternative when it comes to preventing the spread of vine pests and diseases. In addition to NVG's Low-Smoke Burning Technique, the use of fire box burners can also deliver a clean burn. For vines not compromised due to pest and disease issues, other alternative methods include chipping and grinding.
NVG's Vine Disposal & Open Burning Resources
NVG’s Low-Smoke Ag Burning Manuals and Task Force Webpage
Open Burning & Vine Disposal Requirements & Best Practices
Alternatives to Traditional Agricultural Biomass Burning in Napa Valley (2018), Daniela Bazán, Master of Science in Environmental Management
Cleaner Burns Archives - Napa Communities Firewise Foundation (napafirewise.org)
Napa County Agricultural Commissioner Burn Permit Information
BAAQMD'S 'Spare the Air' Status
Learn about BAAQMD’s Free Chipping Services
New Wildfire Risk Mapping and Report Software Available for Napa County
The Wildfire Fuel Mapper helps landowners and managers locate and understand fire hazards on their land, providing users with a set of tools and resources to reduce risk. It can also be used by professionals to support their clients in planning vegetation management projects.
The Wildfire Fuel Mapper helps landowners and managers:
Napa County Awarded $37.5 million for Wildfire Prevention
Napa County has been awarded $37.5 million for wildfire prevention, including reducing hazardous fuels and supporting defensible space efforts in the community. NVG provided letters of support for Firewise and the County for this funding.
Ag Pass Trainings Available
As a reminder, the Napa County Ag Pass Program provides official protocols during disasters to ensure worker safety and continuity of vineyard operations that prevent economic loss. In support of a safe, viable program, the Napa County Ag Commissioner's office posted recorded trainings on their department's Ag Pass webpage. The page offers videos and resources by UC (Livestock) and the Sheriff in both English and Spanish.
To access the Napa Valley Grapegrowers Wildfire Resources Library, visit our website. There you can find information on preparedness, emergency steps, recovery, and more. Resources are available in English and Spanish.
The Napa Valley Grapegrowers (NVG) and Napa Valley Farmworker Foundation (FWF) hosted their 16th annual Harvest STOMP fundraiser this past Saturday night, August 26, at Silver Oak Cellars in Oakville, CA. 2023 Auction Chairs, the Duncan Family of Silver Oak, brought together guests from generations old and new, that share a passion for the preservation of local agriculture and providing life-changing opportunities for Napa’s vineyard workforce. With the support of a dedicated community of grape growers, vineyard managers, winery owners, wine lovers, and vineyard professionals, Saturday’s event was celebrated as a revival of sorts, in which supporters re-committed to building a strong, bright future for a Napa Valley rooted in agriculture.
“The energy at Saturday’s event was beyond compare,” said Nate Weis, Silver Oak Cellar’s VP of Winegrowing. “It was rewarding to be among people that care so deeply about this community and the future of the Napa Valley.”
This year’s auction night celebrated generational investment in the local wine and vineyard industry, and all the hard-working families already building their own legacy for Napa Valley agriculture. To honor this year’s message, family-run wineries poured their wines alongside culinary experiences, like the ever-popular Hog Island Oyster Co. oyster bar.
“To gather a community with a shared passion for supporting Napa Valley agriculture is what makes Harvest STOMP so special,” said Sonya DeLuca, interim Executive Director of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers and Napa Valley Farmworker Foundation, “We gather to raise funds in honor of those that made this precious place possible, and for all those that work every day to protect its future.”
Another highlight of the evening was the annual fund-a-need, which raises critical donations for the Napa Valley Grapegrowers and the Napa Valley Farmworker Foundation. The funds raised go directly to supporting the viability of Napa Valley agriculture, advocacy for the grape-growing community, and education and professional development for Napa Valley farmworkers. The generosity from supporters shined bright as paddles raised high under the auction night lights.
John Anthony Vineyards was the 2023 Harvest STOMP Presenting Partner; Mechanics Bank committed as the premier partner; Nordby Construction provided their team for on-site building; Sunbelt Rentals provided equipment; Allied Propane provided event fuel; Green Valley Tractor provided RTVs to support setup; Tre Posti served a family-style, coursed dinner; Regusci Ranch, Yount Mill Vineyards, and Tomgirl Flowers provided farm-fresh zinnias, dahlias, cosmos, sunflowers, and foraged items for floral arrangements; Napa Valley Luxury Restrooms provided elevated, air-conditioned, restrooms; Napa Printing, Design Studio and Mail Center printed auction materials and signage; Silicon Valley Bank sponsored the annual STOMP Store, which featured commemorative t-shirts, sweatpants, Lazy Susans, and hats; St. Helena Hospital Foundation provided guest hydration stations; wine was provided by Napa Valley Grapegrowers members; reception appetizers were provided by Hog Island Oysters, Far Niente, Groth Vineyards and Winery, Rosie Hospitality, Brix, Oakville Grocery, and Long Meadow Ranch; guests kicked up their heels to musical guests, the David Luning Band and the Lucky Devils Band; and Beau Wine Tours provided shuttles and complimentary safe rides home.
Save-the-date, the 17th annual Harvest STOMP will be hosted on Saturday, August 24, 2024. Reservations for the annual event are highly limited and sell out quickly. More information will be released in the coming months.
Napa Valley Grapegrowers and ETS Labs Baseline Data Collection to Understand Smoke Exposure Impacts on Winegrapes
Participate in this program and we will cover the cost of your grape sample analyses!
In partnership with the Napa Valley Grapegrowers, ETS Laboratories has been building a database of grape samples to help growers and winemakers better understand smoke impacts on winegrapes, work with insurance companies to protect your assets, and create individual baselines for the varieties in your vineyard. To date, this multi-year effort has helped to inform the global methodology around smoke taint testing. This 2023 season offers an excellent opportunity to expand this work.
Participate in year 3 of sample collection
The Napa Valley Grapegrowers received a grant to cover the cost of 80 extended volatile and glycosylated markers panels for growers. Proactively collecting samples prior to a fire event provides growers with an individual baseline that may be critical when working with insurance providers should we experience a significant fire event.
Members can get involved by collecting samples according to the protocol below. Thanks to the USDA ERME Grant for Producers Underserved by Crop Insurance, the Napa Valley Grapegrowers is covering the cost of these 80 samples on a first-come, first-served basis. Varieties ETS Labs would like to see more of this year are Sauvignon Blanc (especially), followed by Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer for white varieties, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Zinfandel, and Malbec for red varieties.
With the 2023 growing season well underway, Napa growers are studying the vintage characteristics to date to help track trends. Below are a few highlights so far:
A Seasonal Reminder from the Napa Valley Grapegrowers
While the weather may be cool now, the clusters will need protection from the sun during the late summer and early fall months, so crews should be prudent when making canopy management passes during the next few weeks of the growing season.