Tag Archives: wine grapes

Why Does Napa Valley Wine Cost so Much?


Question from Rick: Why does Napa Valley wine cost so much?

Reply: Good question – I’ll bet lots of people wonder the same thing. The short answer is supply and demand. But, seen through that lens, the best of Napa Valley Cabs are quite a bargain compared to their European counterparts.

You can expect to pay just over $200.00 a bottle for Shafer Napa Valley Hillside Select Cabernet – a wine that many think of as one of Napa Valley’s unofficial first growths. A current vintage of Chateau Latour, a first growth from Bordeaux, is $1000.00 a pop, give or take, depending upon where you buy it.

I don’t think any tasting panel would come to the conclusion that Chateau Latour is five times better than Hillside Select or that the Hillside Select is seven times better than Robert Mondavi’s Napa Valley Cab.
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Today’s Wine Word: Early Bud Break


If you grow wine grapes in the northern hemisphere you should finish up pruning in the next month or so, depending upon your growing conditions. If you have a vineyard in the Napa Valley (or Northern California) you better finish up NOW!

The annual growth cycle of a vineyard resembles that of a rose garden. After a spring, summer and fall of producing their little hearts out these plants deserve, and take, a rest. Depending upon the weather, the vines drop their leaves and go dormant sometime in November or December – just like roses. Frankly, they look like dead stumps right now.

But, we’re thinking the vines may well wake up early, in this neck of the woods, this year. After a summer of no summer in 2011 we’re experiencing a very pleasant (but somewhat scary) winter of no winter here. It’s been warm and dry for the most part. Today is supposed to top 75 degrees frevvinsake!

On a normal year, we figure the vines will come out of dormancy beginning in about mid-March. But, the soil warms up fast when it’s dry and it could well be that the vines are thinking about stirring and, maybe, waking a few weeks early. 

A few weeks can’t possibly matter, you say! Well… it depends. 

The thing is that we can have frost at night here into May and the earlier the vines wake up the greater the risk of frost damage. Last year, the spring was so wet and weepy that we didn’t have any frost problems at all. But 2008 was the worst year for frost since 1972! Can you say crop loss? Not to mention sleep deprivation! 

If we come through the spring without any frost damage, all in all, early “bud break” (the emergence of new shoots) can work to our advantage. Early bud break  often means early flowering, early fruitset and early harvest. Which means we may escape rain damage on the other end of the season.

Of course, this is all speculation. Stay tuned… 

Next: pruning!

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Cabernet is a Grape?

Question from Mark: Sorry to bother you again, but from what you said it sounds like the names on the bottles are the names of the grape – is that right? 

Reply: Hi, Mark. You’re not bothering me – I love getting your questions! When you shop for new-world wine (not from Europe), most of the time it’s named for the grape variety that made it and the country or region set minimum requirements in terms of percentage. For, instance a bottle of American Chardonnay must be made from at least 75% Chardonnay grapes. 

So, yes, Chardonnay is a grape variety that’s different from Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec… There are thousands of grape varieties, but a relative handful make most of the world’s wine. They’re members of a family called vitis vinifera – vitis is the genus and vinifera is the species. Over centuries we’ve voted with our pocket books. Select varieties within the species make wine that tastes good to us! 

So, you can drink Pinot Noir from its homeland in France or enjoy one from New Zealand.

I’ve noticed that the concept of different varieties is confusing to a lot of people. I like to think of myself at the produce market, choosing apples. Do I want Pink Ladies or Granny Smith? Same deal with wine varieties – they’re all a little different and we all have our personal preferences. 

Wine grapes are good for eating, but they’re rarely sold that way. The reason today’s table grapes are so nice and juicy and don’t bother us with seeds is because they’re hybrids, such as Thompson Seedless. Hybrids for wine are available, but they have a tiny market niche. Most of them were developed in New York to tolerate the difficult climate. Since every single state makes wine now, those hybrids are valuable in places like Minnesota too!  

When you shop for European wines, you’ll occasionally run into examples that name the grape variety, but most of the time there’s a regional name instead, such as Burgundy or Chianti. Within those regions they regulate the approved varieties, methods and so forth. In some regions, they make varietal wine (wine with  a dominant grape variety). Red Burgundy is Pinot Noir; white Burgundy is Chardonnay. In others they blend. Traditionally, Chianti is a blend of several grapes, but today they also permit varietal wine production. 

If you think all this sounds confusing, you’re absolutely right! But, it’s the way it is. Enjoy the wines that taste good to you and please ask a question whenever you have one! Cheers!  

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Today’s Wine Word: Canopy Management

The growing season has begun in earnest and now’s the time for vineyard managers in the northern hemisphere to focus on canopy management. 

Actually, there’s always canopy management to do, since winter pruning is also a form of it. 

Canopy = the green shoots that emerge from the dormant vines every spring. 

Winter pruning is done with the theory that for each bud, or growing point, that remains after pruning there will be one shoot. And for each shoot, an average of two grape clusters. But, as a good friend and wine consultant once said to me: “The vines don’t read the textbook!” So, it’s up to the vineyard manager to check out what’s actually happened and decide what, if anything, to do about it – canopy management. Continue reading

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