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.
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.
BAAQMD Ag Burn Extension | June 30
Due to the late rains this spring, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) extended the date growers could conduct agricultural burns for crop replacement or pruning and attrition until June 30. For more information on NVG's Best Practices for Low-Smoke Agricultural Burns, see below.
Prescribed Burn Association Community Meetings
The Napa County Resource Conservation District (RCD) is hosting a series of community meetings this summer as the first step in developing a Prescribed Burn Association (PBA) in Napa County. The next meeting will be held via Zoom on June 28 from 5:30 - 7:00 pm.
If you have any questions or would like to be added to the PBA mailing list, please reach out to Danielle Ashton of the Napa RCD (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Read the Entire 2022 Napa County Crop Report
By Liz Thach MW for Decanter
Photo by Big Shot in Wine Country Media
Sheep in the vineyard, no tillage and reduced pesticides were just a few of the solutions for vineyards to mitigate climate change that were recommended at the recent ‘Ahead of the Curve’ seminar hosted by the Napa Valley Grapegrowers. Given that the UN Climate Report 2023, released on 20th March, urges swift action to prevent the planet from surpassing the 1.5C degrees threshold of catastrophic warming, the seminar couldn‘t have come at a better time.
‘We‘ve been offering the “Ahead of the Curve” seminar to our growers since 2007,’ said Sonya DeLuca, interim executive director of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers. ‘This is the second year in a row that we have focused on sustainability and climate efforts, because it is so critical to our future now,’ she added.
DeLuca referenced the extreme wildfires, droughts and atmospheric jet streams that have afflicted Napa Valley over the past five years. Given that Napa Valley currently has 17,000 hectares under vine and 1,500 grape growers, education on this topic is critical. Yet the majority of the solutions offered by the five experts who spoke during the day-long seminar at Charles Krug Winery can be applied to any global vineyard.
In recent years, there has been a surge in awareness and interest around sustainability and land stewardship across California farming communities — and not only among agricultural producers.
The benefits of farmland preservation and regenerative farming practices have captured the interest of a much larger audience that sees that a farmer’s work can benefit the community as much as the farm itself. This is true in Napa County, where growers are increasingly taking action and demonstrating that returns on environmentally conscience investments in the vineyard can be land-smart, economically beneficial and provide ecosystem services to the collective community.
Land restoration efforts around the Napa watershed are a great example of long-term investments grape growers continue to undertake. These show how doing the right thing can result in a multitude of benefits. The river restoration projects in Oakville, Yountville, and now Oak Knoll reaches have proven to be extremely successful. They have improved the Napa River and instream habitats leading to the repopulation of fish and other animals as well as supported the replenishment of aquifers and decreased the risk of flooding — a domino effect of positive change to local ecosystems!