Following the devastation of the Glass Fire in September 2020, upon consultation with my vineyard manager I made the decision to try to replant the vineyard and re-install the infrastructure of the vineyard as soon as possible. With the lack of supplies and Covid restrictions, getting material and people to do the work took a bit longer than anticipated, but the new vines were in the ground by June of 2021.
Basically, the vines were already one year old when planted, having been grafted in the nursery to the disease resistant rootstock with the correct clone the previous year. So my old-school vineyard mentality could not believe it when the vineyard team suggested that we might be getting as many as 3 tons of marketable grapes from the crop this year from the little two-year old vines. Having not planted a vineyard since 1988, when all grapes would be ceremoniously cut from the vines the second and third leaf, at which time the winemakers agreed that the vines were old enough to bear a mature crop, harvesting the grapes from the second leaf was an eye-opening reality for me.
As young vines, there was not a well-structured, established canopy of canes with leaves to help shade the grapes from the hot afternoon exposure, so we installed shade cloth on the west side of all rows of vines. We also had attracted a bevy of hungry, local wildlife, (song birds, raccoons and turkeys), who had stripped many vines of their precious fruit, so another round of bird cloth was installed to protect the baby clusters – two extra investments of time, money and manpower that I had not anticipated.
The diurnal temperatures in the Napa Valley are what gives our grapes the special advantage of maturing and sweetening in 80 and 90 degree daytime temperatures, while the early morning temperatures can drop as low as 30 degrees, maintaining the bright acid in the fruit. Harvesting at night, with light bars and headlamps to assist the pickers, was also something that had never been tried on our steep hillside vineyard. But with the new grooming of our terraces after the fire and advancements in lighting options the last few years, the standards were now to pick in the early morning hours and deliver the grapes cold and healthy to the winery before sun-up. The vineyard crew was very experienced with night-time harvests and moved through each successive row, filling their pans quickly and delivering the grapes to the ½-ton bins on the trailer with speed and precision.
It feels a bit like a birth announcement, but on Thursday morning, starting at 3:00 am, October 12, 2023, 2.5 tons of the new Herb Lamb Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon was picked and delivered to Rivers Marie Winery before dawn. I could not have been a prouder mom than at that moment!