Growing & Winemaking


Majority in Napa to Replace Vines by 2017

December 2016
by Andrew Adams

 Napa, Calif.—Pressure from grapevine red blotch-associated virus and Pierce’s disease is one of the mainreasons most Napa County wine grape growers plan to redevelop vineyards by 2017.
During the recent harvest, the Napa Valley Grapegrowers surveyed its members about the vintage and their vineyards and found that 86% of those who responded plan to redevelop at least some of their acreage in 2017. About 60% of the members redeveloped acreage in 2015 and 62% said they did this year.

Brittany Pederson, a viticulturist and pest control advisor with Silverado Farming Co. as well as the co-chair of the Grapegrowers’ member services committee, said more growers are moving to 10- and even five-year replant schedules. “Definitely the virus and disease pressure have been a huge portion of that,” she said.

Pederson’s remarks came during a panel discussion in which she was joined by P.J. Alviso, director of estate vineyards for Duckhorn Vineyards and a member of the group’s planning committee, and Matt Reid, winemaker for Benessere Vineyards. The three discussed the results of the survey as well as the 2016 harvest in general during a session of the recent Rootstock conference held Nov. 8 in Napa, Calif.

In some vineyards, especially those near riparian areas along the Napa River, Pederson said she dealt with some vineyard blocks that had a Pierce’s disease (PD) infection rate of up to 70%. She said the ailment usually peaks every 15 to 20 years. “We happen to be in that spike right now,” she said. “I’m crossing my fingers hoping we’re past the peak of that.”

Growers in both Napa and Sonoma counties experienced a dramatic spike in PD during 2015 as well. The warmer winters of late have also been blamed for the increase in PD.

Red blotch continues to be a threat with some growers having to replant or rogue out infected vines from properties they had already redeveloped because of the disease. However, she said new planting materials now available offer a much greater degree of protection, and the work being done by Dr. Andy Walker at the University of California, Davis, on PD-resistant grapevines is also quite encouraging. The vines already are proving to be a success in Texas, Missouri and other states that had been rife with PD.

As growers redevelop vineyards to better deal with the challenges posed by disease, they are also quite mindful of designing vineyards to take full advantage of the latest technology that will help them confront their other major challenge: finding adequate labor.

More than half (53%) of growers who responded to the survey said they had to deal with a labor shortage in 2016.

Alviso said he plans any new vineyard to allow for mechanizing jobs such as leaf pulling or even harvesting. He said one of the major challenges in ensuring that enough workers are available to do jobs such as shoot thinning is that living in Napa County and the rest of the Bay Area is quite expensive. While the average starting wage of $14 per hour for vineyard work is competitive, it’s hard to cover the cost of housing, which amounts to more than twice the price of the Central Valley for comparable living quarters.

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