Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

Collector’s Corner

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

Vineyard Articles

Vintage 2006: The Beginning

Coming after last year’s unusual growing season with its abundance of spring rain and a very large crop size, we have for 2006 what is already shaping up as another atypical year for our Napa Valley vineyards.

This year the vines have slept late. The swelling of the buds (which signals the breaking of dormancy) was much delayed by a number of factors all tending to lengthen the winter sleep of perennial plants such as grapevines. First, the number of sunless days, then, the unseasonable and unusual coldness of the days and nights and last, the high amount of rainfall, which keeps the ground in a saturated and cold condition uncharacteristic of the normal Mediterranean climate of California’s coastal grape growing regions.

The result of these factors is that the vegetative cycle of the vines got off to a slow start, about three weeks later than "normal." The Cabernet Sauvignon vines are now beginning the unfurling of the swollen buds and this year’s shoots are bursting forth. Chardonnay, an earlier variety, is about 10-15 days ahead of the Cabernet Sauvignon.

During this period of bud break and the first shoot elongation, the vines are extremely sensitive to frost damage. So our wind machines (which mix the lower temperature air near the ground with the warmer air above) are repaired and ready to be turned on whenever the temperature drops to a dangerous level. The crews are prepared to leave their warm beds to go out into the chilly night or early predawn morning to turn on the machines or to light the oil-fired heaters to provide more heat to the lowlying areas within the vineyard. Imagine the scene of darkness-filled nights and huge, airplane-sized motors with their propellers generating winds, as well as many bonfire-like blazes generating heat. Then you will have in mind the picture of a frosty night where the men are protecting the tender shoots from damaging sub 32°F cold. It is a little like a battlefield scene. All of this activity to defend the future grapes from unfriendly conditions at this stage.

The next risk the vines will go through will be at the time of flowering. At that time, rain, excessive heat or cold can produce conditions which are unfavorable to the self-pollination of the flowers and, therefore, determine the size of the crop. We will all keep our fingers crossed for favorable conditions to prevail and look forward to sharing with you good news as this vintage 2006 goes forward.