Grape growers see good wine in the forecast

April 25, 2012 7:04:17 PM PDT
Right now is a critical time of year for the grapes that will ultimately be picked, crushed and bottled into fine Napa Valley wines. Last year's weather was tough on vineyards, but this year could be different -- both for the grapes and for the workers who pick them.

2011 was a historically difficult growing season because of heavy rains and an unusually cool spring.

"We still made great wine, we just made less of it," winemaker Jon Ruel said.

But that short supply comes at a time when demand for wine is actually on the rise. If you were looking for signs of a recovering economy, grape growers say look no further than wine country.

"There's a sense for people who drink expensive wines that they feel a little richer when the stock market is up and we've seen a run," Bin To Bottle Winery partner John Wilkinson said.

But the shortage won't last long. In their annual news conference, the Napa Valley Grape Growers explained last year's gloomy, wet La Nina weather pattern paved the way for this spring to be hot and sunny.

"So for the springtime to be dry and warm means that we'll have good pollination and good set," viticulturist Amy Warnock said.

Good pollination means more grapes and that's also good news for the workers who harvest them. Many farms have come to rely on migrant workers to tend their crops, but in the Napa Valley, a different trend is emerging: vineyards tended by year-round employees.

"We're looking more and more for farm workers staying in this valley, to work on the same farm, so they get to know the vine, the plant and they are as familiar with those grapes, those vines as we are," vineyard owner Steve Moulds said.

Growers say it will help if a year like 2011 happens again.

"We never know what to expect, but having a trained, knowledgeable crew that really knows your vineyard helps tremendously," Moulds said.


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