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Napa Valley to replant up to 15% of vineyards

A massive replanting that will uproot 15% of vineyards in Napa Valley over the next five to six years has begun, according to Napa Valley Grapegrowers.

A chance to re-evaluate…Napa

Jennifer Putnam, the group’s executive director, said nurseries were completely sold out of vines until 2015, and that ‘we know these are not for new acres.’

She added that it has been 20 years since a widely used rootstock from UC Davis proved not resistant to phylloxera, forcing many growers to replant.

‘This is an opportunity for Napa to re-evaluate, to reconsider what is planted where,’ Putnam said. ‘The landscape may look different in 15 years.’

An abundant 2012 crop (compared to 2011, total value was up 55% to US$656.2m while production also increased by 50% to 182,859 tons) has, according to Putnam, given growers the optimism and cash flow they need to begin such an effort.

Michael Monette of Sunridge Nurseries, one of the region’s largest suppliers of plant material, said, ‘In 14 years, I have never seen such strong demand.’

That demand is complicated by the discovery of a virus called red blotch disease that causes lower sugar levels in red grape varieties. Growers waiting for clean plant material have created a bottleneck that has some orders on hold till 2015. ‘Sales for 2012-2013 are strong but delayed,’ Monette said.

Longtime grower Andy Beckstoffer, who owns and manages some of the most expensive Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley and was instrumental in the last two waves of plantings in the 1970s and again in the 1990s, says that things are different this time around.

‘In the ‘90s we looked to Europe,’ he said of the tight spacing and vertical trellising commonly employed. ‘Now we understand that we are very different [from Bordeaux]…we have to pay attention to our own terroir and not follow others.’

Beckstoffer also believes that vineyard designation — like his renowned To Kalon and Georges III — will become increasingly important for winemakers and consumers alike; even more so than sub-appellations like Rutherford. ‘That is how we are raising quality,’ he says. ‘We are beginning to understand the terroir.’

As for what is being planted, Cabernet Sauvignon dominates by far,’ Monette said, with other Bordeaux varieties ‘not even on the radar.’ Pinot Noir is a ‘distant second’; Chardonnay is the dominant white grape.

Monette also said he was seeing increasing interest from small producers in the Italian grape Nero D’ Avola.

Written by Courtney Humiston in Sonoma

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