The 2013 Napa County wine grape crop isn’t likely to match last year’s record crush. However, the price of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon could top last year’s record high levels. Add the prospects for top quality grapes and both growers and vintners in the valley’s 16 sub-appellations should be smiling at season’s end.

That’s how vineyard consultant Garrett Buckland assesses the prospects for the maturing crop in mid-July. Buckland is a partner in Premiere Viticultural Services, a Napa, Calif., consulting firm that works with 30 clients. Most are in Napa and Sonoma counties.

“The yields won’t be quite as high this year as last season, but the 2013 crop looks fantastic,” he says. “Overall, the prices growers receive for their grapes will be higher than last year.”

Buckland expects close-to-average yields in Cabernet Sauvignon and all Bordeaux varieties, and above-average production for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.

It has been the plentiful warm, dry weather this year season that has Buckland excited about the quality prospects.

“This year started off fairly dry,” Buckland says. “A hot, dry spring is a challenge in the vineyard, but it allows for better canopy management to control vine growth and berry diameter for making better quality wine. But the biggest benefit of an early season like this one is the ability to let the crop hang out a little longer to eliminate any green character in the grapes. Vineyards in cooler areas will benefit greatly from the accelerated season.” This season’s unusually warm weather includes record high temperatures in July. Some growers recorded highs of 110 degrees. Fortunately, humidity levels were high (30 percent to 40 percent) and that is better for grapes, if not people.
Most growers reacted to high temperature forecasts by switching to fungicides rather than sulfur for control. Sulfur can burn grapes in high heat. Many also minimized spreader and sticker use. “They can disrupt the waxy coating on the outside of berries to increase absorption of solar radiation,” Buckland says. “Temperatures in the berries can easily be 5 to 10 degrees higher than ambient temperatures. So, you don’t want to make that any worse.”

Growers also used overhead sprinklers, micro-sprinklers or misters to cool down the canopies and fruit.

“Many organic growers have been struggling to stay ahead of the powdery mildew,” he says. “But, most vineyards are clean.”

The first of the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon grapes began turning red in mid-July. That’s a week or two earlier than usual, Buckland notes. He expected about half the Cabernet Sauvignon and most of the Chardonnay grapes to have begun softening by the end of the third week of July.