Napa Talk Winemakers

Napa Talk with Jim Duane

Winemaker Jim Duane is giving you the dirt on Napa.

” A wise grapegrower will spend much time and energy to build the resilience of their soils, so that grapevines can thrive for decades and produce high quality grapes.”

1. What’s your Napa love story?

 I fell in love with Napa because of the opportunity for winemaking greatness.  Beyond the natural aspects of climate and soils, Napa has a tremendous level of talent and hustle from the people that grow grapes, make wine, provide hospitality and relentlessly aspire to push the upper boundaries of Napa’s place in world-class wine destinations.  That also breeds a climate for great restaurants, one of my favorite reasons to live here. 

2. What makes Napa ideal for growing wine grapes?

Napa is ideal for growing grapes for the same reason that Napans can snuggle at night. One of the reasons we are able to grow grapes at such a high level of quality stems from the daily temperature swings, specifically the wonderful cooling Napa experiences at night. Grapes use the heat of the day to ripen and take advantage of the cooler nights to moderate that pace of ripening, which allows for beautiful, rich flavors and elegant tannins to develop from the skins of red grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon. That same cooling allows me to open my windows at night and snuggle.

3. How important is the soil?

Real quick! Let’s define terroir:

Terroir Definition

sounds like “tare WAHr”

Terroir is how a particular region’s climate, soils and aspect (terrain) affect the taste of wine. Some regions are said to have more ‘terroir’ than others.

via Wine Folly

The sum of all the natural elements for where a wine is grown and produced manifests as terroir. When a wine has characteristic flavors and textures that can be recognized by taste alone, it is reflecting the terroir of its origin. Weather and soils are facets of terroir, but I believe it is also driven by a given growing season, the people that care for the vines in the vineyard and the winemakers that have the final role in caring for the wines before bottling. 

Soil plays a special role, its physical structure is the conduit for water, minerals and the place where so many living organisms interact with the vines’ roots. Soil temperature is what cues the vines to wake up after winter dormancy. Its water-holding capacity drives the pace of vine growth and influences the inflection point when vines switch from vegetative growth to developing the skins and juice that is central to wine quality. Soil is the bank of generations of nutrients that cycle between the vine, the atmosphere and the other plants growing in the vineyard. Soil is the only element of terroir that is alive and dynamic. A wise grapegrower will spend much time and energy to build the resilience of their soils, so that grapevines can thrive for decades and produce high quality grapes. 

4. Let’s talk dirt – what’s so special about Napa soil?

The story of Napa’s soils is one of diversity. There are more soil types in the Napa Valley than the entirety of France, stemming from California’s geologic formation.  The best soils in Napa hold enough water for a grapevine to thrive through our Mediterranean climate without rain in the summer and fall, but not too much for the vine roots to be bogged down. That same balance applies to nutrients and organic matter in the soils. Many of Napa’s soils are in the Goldilock’s zone of not too much, but just enough. Where soils are heavier, especially in the middle of the valley near the Napa River, we plant Sauvignon Blanc, which grows into a big vine and delights in a nutrient-rich soil.  At the edges of the valley in the alluvial fans, in the hillsides, and mountain regions Cabernet Sauvignon and other big red varietals have ideal conditions of porous soils that allow for the vines to struggle as they grow and produce grapes. 

5. Give us a crash course – what are the soil types behind the Napa wines we love?

 In “recent” geologic history the Napa Volcanics and erosion has deposited a wide diversity of materials on the surface creating the current vineyard soils.  The main elements of soils and their deposition comes from volcanics, marine sediment, alluvial fans, and river deposits.  There is no best soil in Napa for growing grapes.  

Follow Jim Duane on Naked Wines

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