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Napa Valley wine grape growers spot arrival of new season, hope it won’t have last year’s calamities

Napa County wine grape growers say they are seeing signs of the arrival of a new wine year: It’s bud break time.

Napa Valley Grapegrowers, a nonprofit trade organization, Wednesday announced the first new growth has shown up on some vines, signaling an emergence from dormancy and the start of a journey to a harvest later in the year.

“We’re seeing the first signs of bud swell on Pinot Noir in the Carneros AVA, with some buds pushing their first leaves this week” said Chris Hyde, general manager at Hyde Vineyards and group member, “within the month, dependent on weather conditions, bud break will ramp up throughout our property.”

Bud break is also close for vineyards north of Carneros as well.

“It’s a very exciting time in Napa Valley. While we’re seeing buds swell, we’re not quite to bud break,” said Justin Leigon, viticulturist for Piña Vineyard Management, whose vineyards are located in Napa County areas such as Oak Knoll District, Pope Valley and Wooden Valley. “The earlier varieties, like Sangiovese, are very close, and we’re about 3-4 weeks out for Cabernet Sauvignon.”

Arrival of this annual event is delayed by about two weeks from 2020, said the association. That’s attributed that to lower temperatures this winter.

"The cooler weather is welcome now, but once buds push through, our focus will be frost,” said Kendall Hoxsey-Onysko, business manager for Yount Mill Vineyards, located in the Yountville and Oakville appellations.

Harvest last season challenged by wildfires and resulting "smoke taint" and the COVID-19 crisis that upended winery demand. The value of the county’s 2020 crop fell by over half, down 51% from 2019 to $440.4 million, because tonnage fell 36% and average pricing by 21%.

This year, growers are bursting with optimism for the new season, like the new vine growth.

“We’re optimistic about the vaccination rollout, especially in terms of labor,” said Leigon. “Our whole vineyard team has been vaccinated and things are feeling a bit more ’normal’ headed into the season.”

The other powerhouse growing region in Wine County — Sonoma County — reported bud break had begun there the week of March 1, according to the Press Democrat.

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