On a crisp January morning, under clear blue skies, Alfredo Llamas walks up to a vine in a Napa Valley vineyard. He kicks the grape stake to see if it was broken, gives the vine a once over, and begins to prune it.
Once Alfredo has given the stake a gentle kick, the vine has his complete attention and focus. He evaluates the length and girth of the canes, judging the number of buds to leave at the position.
Strong canes require additional buds to compensate for excess vigor, and Alfredo will leave fewer buds on weak canes to strengthen the position. The excess wood will be removed, and precise cuts made to leave enough cane above the bud to protect the bud from drying out, but not so much that pests find a place to harbor.
Pruning is a time to reflect on the past, live in the present, and imagine what the future will bring. Less than a minute later, Alfredo will be kicking the next stake.
Vineyard workers are like sculptors when they prune. The swishing and snipping of shear blades create base notes to the sharp sounds of canes being pulled from wires in the cold mornings of the New Year. The tendrils stubbornly hold on to the trellis wire, wanting to be sure their efforts to support the vine in the prior year do not go unnoticed. Hope and good intentions are carefully balanced, as the basic structure of the vine is revealed.
If there were ever a year to prune away the nightmarish memories of a rampant pandemic, wildfires and a deeply divided country, this is it. We learned a lot about ourselves, our families, and our community in 2020. Fear, anger, and mistrust gave way to empathy and concern for one and all. We are the flames of candles in church glimmering and waving in a chorus of hope.
It is time to pull together as viticulturists, winemakers, restauranteurs and Americans. It is a time to digest the recent past and to focus on the rawness of the moment and heal together. Just as the sap flows from pruning wounds, our emotions and concerns must be released as we transition to peace in our community. The moments we ponder will become the building blocks of a bright future.
We know that the sun will rise, the buds will break, the flowers will bloom and grape berries will set. How many, we do not know. They will be tasty, flavorful, juicy, acidic, and colorful. Whether they will result in herbal or fruity wines, only time will tell.
Our role is to pay attention to the needs of the vines as they cope with changing weather and climate. Giving the vines too much water, for example, is like giving someone too little to do. They lose focus and become inefficient as they drift into a sense of leisure. Giving the vines too little water is like giving someone too much to do. The load leads to stress, giving way to a sense of anxiety. This is unhealthy. Keeping vines and people balanced and focused on the task at hand maintains a sense of urgency.
There are a lot of issues to address. The lack of rain and unusual weather are, like the fires started from dry lightning strikes, reminders that the global climate is changing. Future disaster preparedness depends upon individuals and businesses taking action, as well as thoughtful, communitywide prevention strategies.
There is also a great need for economic relief for businesses facing hardship from recent disasters and the global pandemic. All the while, the need to protect farmland from encroaching development becomes even greater during tumultuous times. It is more important than ever to protect what makes Napa County so special.
The mission of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers (NVG) is clear: to preserve and promote Napa Valley’s world-class vineyards. Founded in 1975 by a group of Napa Valley legends, some of whom are still in this world and some who are not, the NVG is at the frontline of action in the Napa Valley.
The association focused on protecting the Napa Valley appellation during the BATF hearings and the reliance on geographical and historical indicators, the Berryhill Bill, the annual Grape Crush Report, production cost reports for Napa Valley wine grapes, grape contracts based on the Bottle Price Formula, the Winery Definition Ordinance (WDO), Measure J, and the founding of the Napa Valley Farmworker Foundation.
This work enhanced and built upon the foundation laid with the Napa Valley Ag Preserve. It is an extension of that work, which established agriculture as the highest and best use of the land in Napa County. I was born and raised in the farming community of Gilroy in the Santa Clara Valley. Agricultural acreage continues to dwindle in Santa Clara Valley, where agricultural land has not been protected. This is not the case in Napa Valley.
The NVG’s efforts to educate vineyard workers, growers, viticulturists and winemakers make a fundamental contribution to the outstanding quality of Napa Valley wines and the quality of life we enjoy here. They showcase the people who are at the core of the industry, lifting them, enhancing their sense of pride and their contribution to the integrity of Napa Valley.
The ability of NVG leadership and staff to change direction to meet the mounting challenges in 2020 makes me proud. From working to provide COVID-19 testing for vineyard workers to organizing virtual seminars on COVID-19, financial issues, and fire recovery, the NVG has been there for its members to not only preserve and promote Napa Valley’s world-class vineyards but to protect its members and the farmworker community.
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