“The current weather should result in a short-duration veraison,” Buckland says. “We should see veraison in a vineyard go from about 5 percent of the grapes to 95 percent in less than two weeks.”

That would make for a crop of more uniform ripeness and higher quality. However, with most of the red and white varieties going through veraison at much the same time, they also should be ready for harvest at a similar time. That could leave wineries hard-pressed to handle the crop in a timely manner. “Last year’s record crop was a good test of Napa County’s harvest capacity,” he adds. “This year the wineries should be very busy again turning tanks.”

Growers will likely begin picking grapes for sparkling wines in the first week of August, a week earlier than normal, he predicts. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc harvests for still wines should be under way by early September, if not a little sooner. Buckland expects Cabernet and Merlot grapes to start coming off the vines towards the end of September.

“October is the busiest month for Napa Valley,” Buckland says. “The Cabernet Sauvignon harvest usually spans about a 45-day period. With such a diverse range of vineyard sites, from mountains to the valley floor, there are always some growers picking grapes into the first week of November.”

As elsewhere in California, labor availability is an ongoing concern in Napa. The critical time here is not getting the grapes picked in the fall but tending the vines in the spring, he notes. The biggest demand is for workers who can perform the detailed canopy work from May through early June. This conflicts with the labor demand for fruit harvests elsewhere.

Napa County’s labor situation differs from most other areas of the Golden State in still another way.

“We’re fortunate to have the financial resources to pay a much higher wage rate than surrounding areas, with many of our employees receiving benefits,” Buckland says. “That buffers us somewhat, but we still want to foster a sustainable labor force. That’s why we’re working hard to attract skilled workers and provide them year-round employment.  A sustainable and well-cared-for workforce is a crucial component.

If you would like to read more about California grape growing, subscribe to GrapeLine, the exclusive electronic newsletter sponsored twice a month by Chemtura: See here for sign-up. It’s free and e-mailed the second and fourth weeks of each month from March through October.


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