Napa wine growers ready to pull cork on new season

ST. HELENA, Calif.

"Bud break is here, so that's exciting because that's the beginning of the 2013 growing season in the vineyards," said Remi Cohen of Cliff Lede Vineyards.

The dry winter has been both a blessing and a potential curse for Napa Valley wine growers. At V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena, the buds are swelling about two weeks early and the workers are out pruning and tying the vines.

"We've had a relatively dry 2013, which tells the plants it's time to get going and start getting the buds swelling up and the shoots starting to break forward," said John Winkelhaus, vice president of V. Sattui.

But thanks to an wet early season, water supply shouldn't be a big issue this season. A perennial worry though is frost.

"That's a concern, especially if we have the buds swelling and the bud break happening as well. That can damage the crop," Winkelhaus said.

But with traditional weather stations and high-tech monitoring systems, growers say they'll get plenty of warning.

The new growing season comes as the Napa Valley begins a massive replanting that usually comes every two decades.

"Napa Valley grapes are in high demand, Cabernet Sauvignon is in high demand and a lot of growers are taking this opportunity to replant their vineyards," said Cohen.

Last year brought a record grape crush. That means if the pattern holds this year, the harvest might be smaller. But of course what counts in this business is quality, not the quantity.

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