Another Napa Valley Cabernet season begins! During the first week of April the vines at Dyer Vineyard started what we call “budbreak.” This means the buds began to push out leaves- the beginnings of shoots that will bear this years crop. Since the last post we have had a little over 4” of additional rain, and we can once again hear the gurgling of Diamond Creek. While this doesn’t end the drought for much of California, it is great timing for the Napa Valley. The vines now have the ground moisture they need to grow their normal one-meter shoots by the end of May. With water still an issue this season, it also helps that at Dyer Vineyard we selected a rootstock that is capable of going very deep to pull moisture that will remain a long time around the volcanic rocks that make up our site.
Over the next few weeks any further storms will be welcomed but the bigger issue now is the need to be vigilant for any frost events that commonly follow the late season storm fronts that drop down from the north. Our Diamond Mountain site offers protection from most of these, as cold air tends to settle on the floor of the Napa Valley, leaving the hillsides a little warmer. However, once in a while the colder air is deeper to the extent it reaches our vineyard. Frost is made of crystals that can damage the tissue in the young shoots—our method of protecting them is to activate a sprinkler system that shoots a small spray right down the vine row. This prevents frost from forming on the vines. Even if the temperature falls below freezing, and ice forms on the shoots, they are protected against frost. Yes, this is counter-intuitive (and perhaps a subject for another posting)!
How is the drought in California affecting our vineyard? Right now the vines are still dormant, so they are not requiring any moisture. But the buds are swelling, making us hasten to finish pruning, and in a matter of the vines will leaf out. Then they will certainly require sufficient ground moisture to rapidly grow their shoots to about 1 meter in length in 7 or 8 weeks—will they have enough water?
Back in January our situation looked quite bleak. We had received less than 2 inches of rain during the season to that point. The hills were brown. The cover crops was stunted in some areas, and even none existent in others, where seeds had failed to germinate. It seemed like Napa Valley was in dire straits (note that when we registered our LLC with the State of California it was as Dyer Straights Wine Company LLC—an attempt at humor with the bureaucracy, and perhaps a hope that Mark Knofler would like a case occasionally—Mark where are you? But we were not anticipating such extreme drought.
But in the first week of February the skies opened and we received 9” of rain. Suddenly we could hear the roar of Diamond Creek (the stream between our vineyard and the famous Diamond Creek Winery). Another 5 inches came our way late in the month. Everyone in Napa Valley was buzzing about how quickly the hills became green again, and remarked about the mustard plants blooming afterall. We are still only about 40% of normal rainfall, but what we received was well timed, filling the soil profile just weeks before budbreak
For sure the State of California as a whole is in (OK) dire straits with the drought. The large reservoirs in The State Water Project average around a third full, and the snow pack in the Sierra is less than 30% of normal. We are hearing that farmers in the Central Valley may only get water allocations for orchards and vineyards (to ensure survival of these permanent crops) but row crops will not be supported—so we may all be in dire straits when it comes to food prices in the coming year. But here in Napa Valley, and throughout the North Coast we are cautiously optimistic. We will need to adopt drought strategies (more about that later) but every year has its own challenge. After all, its never “money for nothing” and the chicks aren’t exactly free.
Just one week ago, on Sunday Sept 29, we concluded the 2013 harvest at Dyer Vineyard. It was another banner year for us- early, ample and delicious. Sugars had hovered around 24 brix for several weeks as we watched the flavors develop and skins soften to the point where color extraction becomes easy. With a small storm coming in Sunday night we made a quick decision to pull the trigger and pick.
After 5 years of relatively late seasons (and a few that were cut short, literally, by rain) 2013 was a return to harvest of the 1990s. No heat waves marred the critical, post veraison ripening period and the fruit was in tip top shape when it arrived at the sorting table.
Now mid fermentation, we’re watching a brooding, deeply colored wine take shape. The tannins are rich and ripe, color intense and that characteristic black cherry note that dominates the best vintages fills the cellar.
For the second year in a row, we’re fermenting ¾ of a ton of Cab Franc separate from the blend. From 2012 we’re planning to release 50 cases of pure Cab Franc… it’s too early to say about the 2013, but it could turn out to be a little tradition. Stay tuned!
For quite awhile, now, we’ve been meaning to review all the vintages of Dyer Vineyards Cabernet – we’re amazed to realize there are fifteen vintages now (seventeen if you count the two in barrels!) But, we just hadn’t gotten to it.
In a recent moment of serendipity, Bill was talking to Doug Wilder, the Publisher of Purely Domestic Wine Report, who was wondering aloud about the age-ability of Napa Valley Cabernet. The conversation evolved into setting up a fifteen-year vertical tasting of our wine with Doug, who suggested we also invite a couple of his fellow wine writers.
There’s been a long-running debate on the age-ability of Napa Valley Cabernet because of our lovely, warm climate. The warm growing season is responsible for the generously fruity nature of the wines but it also tends to soften the natural grape acidity. This makes the wines easy to enjoy when they’re young but may take away from their longevity in some cases.
What an exciting opportunity! We taste our older vintages from time to time, but to sit down to a complete vertical with critics we respect is really a very momentous occasion.
We are so pleased that Doug found a “consistent aroma and flavor profile unique to the vineyard” and that that all of the wines, even the first few vintages, are still full of life.
He has just published his thoughts on the tasting along with notes on each vintage and comments on the role that terroir plays in our Diamond Mountain wines. We'll post his notes on the website page for each vintage (Our Wine/Library.) Those of you who have older vintages in your cellar may find it useful. But until we do, you can link to the entire article here. You may just want to subscribe!
The Napa Valley Vintners is our local trade organization and if you aren’t aware of the educational riches there, you should check it out!
The most recent addition to their library is a video series called “Napa Valley Rocks.” It consists of several short, but very informative, videos that cover everything from the history of Napa Valley to how the vines are pruned.
When it came to the piece on viticulture, I was honored to be asked to provide quite a bit of the content! This video covers the amazing diversity of Napa Valley and you’ll see me talking, mainly, about terroir-driven and single vineyard wines – wines from the hundreds of small producers in the valley like Dyer – and how the sites and practices set one apart from the other. It’s well worth watching, if I do say so myself!
The video series had its world premier at our local Cameo Theater on February 20th, so we had our glitzy, red-carpet night in advance of the Oscars! It was quite an event and helped kick off an annual charity auction called Premiere Napa Valley. This year the auction raised over three million dollars for local charities!
So – happy viewing! Since we’re into March, now, we’re very much looking forward to bud break. Not that we want it to be early – better a bit late than early to avoid frost damage - but it’s always so exciting to see the first tender green growth emerge from those gnarled, woody vines. Cheers!
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