The Mustard Flowers of Napa Valley
Springtime is coming! It’s late February in the vineyards. To the naked eye, it appears nothing at all is happening on the vines. None the less, it’s a very important and beautiful time of year in Napa Valley. This winter, we had an unprecedented amount of rain: One of the wettest winters on record. We dearly needed the rain because of the drought that California suffered these past few years. However, the rains have limited the amount of work we can do in the vineyard, so we have to catch up on our pruning. In the vineyards, it is pruning season.
Right now, the vines are dormant, so at this time of year we prune away the wood from the 2016 growing season and set the vine architecture for the 2017 spring bud break. And in the vineyards, we have the annual sea of yellow: The mustard flowers of Napa Valley. At this time of year, there is a magnificent patchwork of brilliant yellow throughout the Valley. For first time visitors and locals alike, the fields of bright yellow are truly a sight to behold.
The arrival of the mustard flowers means that warm weather is coming. This will cause the first buds of Spring to peak out, creating one of the most beautiful times in the Valley. Of course, we are a little bit of concerned about getting all of our pruning completed, but we always enjoy the magnificent sea of yellow as this time of year. We harvest from seven different vineyards. We start our pruning with the driest of them, and work our way to the vineyards that are the now wettest. We will prune in Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena and finish up in Yountville.
When we prune, we strive for roughly eight fruiting sites per side of the vine, so we end up with a total of sixteen, two-bud sites per vine, which will produced 32 shoots. If this sounds like science, it is, as we are looking to predict how much fruit can each vine can ripen. We aim for 18-20 clusters per vine. If we can get 32 good bud positions during pruning, we’ve achieved our goal..
When visitors come to Napa at this time of year, they can sometimes be a bit disappointed when they see dormant vines, which look a little like trees from a Tim Burton movie! But the fields are green and the mustard flowers are spectacular, so it is still a beautiful time of year to visit Napa. In some ways, it’s the best time of year to come to Napa. In the wineries, things are a bit slower so we have more time to spend with visitors who stop by. Restaurant reservations are easier to come by and hotel rates are less expensive than during harvest. Late winter is still a great time of year to visit Napa.
The mustard in Napa and in other wine growing regions was originally planted as a cover crop. Mustard is very rich in nitrogen, so it’s a natural fertilizer. Once the mustard grows and flowers, we till the plants into the soil to replace some of the nitrogen the vines used during the previous year’s growth cycle. The seeds are tilled right into the soil, so they are set to come back again the following year. We’ve planted so much that the flowers have really taken over the valley. But they’re beautiful, and provide sustainable and organic nourishment for the soil. It’s a tradition that’s been a part of wine culture for centuries. Like so many things in Napa Valley, the symbiotic relationship between mustard and grapevines has its origins in France. Dijon Mustard comes from the town of Dijon, in the Burgundy region, and these are the same mustard plants that line our vineyards.
At the winery, we are really excited to be bottling two wines: Our next vintage of Sauvignon Blanc (a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon) and our first ever Napa Valley Rose! Our premiere rose is a blend of Oakville Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is spectacular. We’re only producing 180 cases, so it’s a small but exciting offering.
All of the 2016 wines have been put to barrel, and most have finished their malolactic fermentation. They will all be done with fermentation by March. Our 2016 white wines are finished, but we continue to monitor the amount of malic acid in our red wines, as the malic acid converts to finish the natural process. Once the malic acid is consumed, we know fermentation is done.
So although the vines look like they’re sleeping, there is still much happening in Napa Valley in February. Please come by and visit us at our new St Helena tasting room sometime soon. We would love to enjoy the beautiful mustard flowers of Napa Valley with you.