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Viticultural Record2020 Farming Practices

2020 Deficient rainfall and unseasonably warm spring and summer conditions, culminating in destructive wildfires that swept through Napa County, were but a few of the challenges for which the 2020 growing season will be forever remembered. Combined with operating challenges created by a worldwide pandemic, 2020 is the most challenging season in memory at Vine Hill Ranch.

Because Vine Hill Ranch received only about 52% of the average annual rainfall over the 2019–2020 rainy season, deficient soil moisture prompted an early budbreak in the vineyard. Relatively warm conditions through early March, however, mitigated the risk of damaging frost, allowing the vineyard canopy to develop nicely across the acreage.

Sunny days and warm temperatures allowed for clusters noted for their loose architecture and small berries to set uniformly and in balance with the vineyard canopy. Thinning efforts and canopy management were somewhat limited as the vineyard fell naturally into balance atop limited soil moisture through the growing season.

The month of July witnessed significantly rising temperatures, with the balance of the extended 2020 growing season delivering warm temperatures along with several prolonged heat events that brought forward a Vine Hill Ranch crop of average yield, but with exceptional quality and well-developed tannic structure.

August 26, 2020 witnessed an unusual early-morning lightning strike in the wildlands that embrace the estate vineyard. Thanks to the watchful eye of a neighbor, and the efforts of members of the family, we were able to extinguish the resultant fire without incident. Similar lightning strikes east of the vineyard sparked the LNU Complex Fire that ultimately consumed nearly 375,000 acres across five counties through the month of September. 

Approximately one month later, in the early morning hours of September 27, the Glass Fire ignited in the hills of the Vaca Range northeast of Vine Hill Ranch. Ultimately consuming 67,484 acres across Napa and Sonoma counties, the fire and resultant smoke caused significant damage to vineyards and wineries in the Howell Mountain, Diamond Mountain, and Spring Mountain appellations. Fortunately, harvest at Vine Hill Ranch had been finished on September 26, completing an extended five-week harvest season punctuated by the presence of wildfire smoke across the entire Napa Valley. 

Prompted by these two conflagrations, as well as ongoing wildfire pressure since 2017 in Northern California, we initiated the first phase of understory management, addressing approximately 20 acres that border Vine Hill Ranch’s Block 6. This effort will continue on an annual basis to ensure the sustainability of the 400 acres of watershed lands that embrace the estate vineyard. 

2020 also witnessed the planting of Vine Hill Ranch’s 6.5-acre Block 5 to rootstock, as well as the post-harvest grafting of most of the block to Cabernet Sauvignon. Composting throughout the vineyard continues to ensure the vibrancy of the rich gravel loam soils at Vine Hill Ranch, while selected cover crops provide needed tillage and stability from erosion through the coming rainy season.