For those of you who have never been to Sonoma or Napa County, it is quite the eye candy capitol of agriculture. My parents live here full time and it is no wonder that I have a high probability of being a bounce back baby. In the summer, our dry season, the golden hills are splashed with green trees and everywhere you look there are vineyards. These vineyards are located on all land surfaces imaginable, which ultimately provides little room for other less prioritized land uses (such as cemeteries). There are different valleys, or American Viticulture Areas (AVA), that due to their unique microclimates, produce certain grapes very well and others (you may have noticed) not as well.
There are two different AVAs that go into producing Palmeri Wines. Our Napa Valley Stagecoach collection comes from Atlas Peak AVA which is very well known for its high appellation with southwest facing sun exposure. The characteristically volcanic soil provides rich, yet cooling conditions for nutrients in the hot, fogless, altitude. These circumstances are ideal for the production of cabernet sauvignon. The grape absolutely loves to grow here, just like germs love to grow in fraternity houses.
Our other grape growing location is Van Ness Vineyard in Sonoma County in the Alexander Valley AVA. This is also a high appellation vineyard and experiences considerable temperature fluctuations between the warm day and cool night. The traditionally warmer climate lends itself well for the production of Syrah, but absolutely zero production in the workplace because the beauty is so distracting and the temperature so enticing.
As for the actual growth and taste of grapes, location, location, location is vitally important. The lesser known contributors to palate pleasing wine are the agricultural techniques. The techniques may include planting, cutting, use of pesticides and harvest.
First off, there are multiple types of planting plans. Some plant in line with the route of the sun, while others prefer less direct sunlight and plant perpendicular to the sun’s daily course. Rows parallel with the sun receive light on the top of the vines, but typically hide those on the side. The opposite sun nourishment is true for those perpendicular where they receive more on the sides then on the top. There are also ways to figure out natural water pools underground so if planted accordingly, a vineyard does not need to irrigate much because the vines will tap into the natural resources.
As you drive by vineyards, you may notice that some are more unruly than others. Some feature looks similar to hair dos from heavy metal rock bands, while others are clean cut like prep school boys. This difference again adheres to which grapes receive sunlight at what times of the day. There is also the factor that if more grapes are grown per vine, the nutrients are spread out, creating quantity over quality in the unruly plants.
Some wineries still use pesticides to protect their grapes against rodents and diseases. It is our practice though, to use natural predators of rodents to limit the population of those annoying little buggers. We do not bring these natural predators into the vineyards, but do not “shoo” them away either. The main predator that can be found in Northern California is the rattlesnake. This highly poisonous snake is dangerous and annoying in just about any other situation then preserving a vineyard.
Finally there is the factor of harvest. During harvest some vineyards pay the workers by weight of grapes in a bushel while others pay hourly wage. This then gets into the battle of amount of grapes collected (whether they are good or bad) or taking forever to collect only the best. It is ultimately the vineyard and winery’s decision.
Hopefully this tidbit of insight isn’t too thought intensive- making you remember your agonizing school days where you are just bored to death and not even taking the little effort to skim because it is too excruciating. Knowing about the vine locations and types of agriculture is certainly not necessary to have in one’s readily available wine connoisseur handbook, but is interesting and paints a larger picture of all that is the wine country (I hope).