For a wine region built on tourism, Napa Valley has had a rough vintage.
Let’s take a deeper look into what happened this year and how to help. (PS it involves our favorite thing: wine!)
Napa Valley: Quench The Wildfires With Wine
In Napa Valley, COVID-19 shuttered businesses for 81 days straight. Then, tourism was slow to recuperate (it’s down by approximately 55 percent).
Finally, just as Cabernet Sauvignon ripened, the Glass Fire raged through the northern part of the valley.
“We lost our Grandparents homestead to the fire [built in 1929]. In this time of ultra-modern wineries dominating the area, it was especially sad to see one of the last examples of ‘Old Napa Valley’ go up in flames.”–Vince Tofanelli, Tofanelli Family Vineyard
Flames weren’t the only consequence of the Glass Fire. Wineries spared from the fires were covered with ash. Many wineries aren’t making a 2020 vintage due to smoke taint.
“This is the first year since we started business with the 1989 Cabernet Sauvignon vintage that we have not made estate wine.”
–Fiona Barnett, Barnett Vineyards
“Normally, we would be in the thick of grape harvest and crush right now but, due to losing our entire crop to smoke taint this year, there is no picking, sorting, or crushing for us. We look forward to sticky hands in 2021!”
–Mike Lamborn, Lamborn Family Vineyards
The Road To Recovery (and How To Help)
Fortunately, all is not lost. Wineries are back open in the valley – trying everything they can do to finish the 2020 vintage.
For those looking to support from afar, we dug through Napa Valley Vintners “OpenTheCellar” site for new wine discoveries worth exploring. If you haven’t had a bottle of Napa yet this year, now’s the time.
Here are a few good bottles and stories to quench your thirst. (“View details” to see full info or buy wine directly from the producer.)
It’s especially rare in Napa. This wine comes from a vineyard planted back in 1998 (back when when everyone else was planting Cabernet.)
So, you know how we’re always talking about Merlot being the “secret value” in a place like Napa Valley? Well, here’s a decent example. This perfectly aged (and age-worthy) wine would normally float upwards of $200 a bottle (if it were Cabby-Wabby). However, since it’s just a lil’ ol’ Merlot, no one noticed!
We see you there hiding in plain sight.
If you’ve been watching the news you’ve probably seen the heart-wrenching pictures of Castelli di Amorosa’s burnt stone farmhouse.
Well, if you love Sangiovese and Castles (who doesn’t?), here’s your chance to drink Sangiovese and dream of castle restoration.
Hunnicutt is smack dab in the middle of Spring Mountain and in direct path of the Glass Fire. Their first drive back to the winery is a moment to behold.
Despite the fires, their site proudly states “We’re still standing!”
We picked Hunnicutt’s Luvisi Zinfandel because it’s the one wine that’s been part of their story since the beginning. In fact, that vineyard has supported winemaker’s dreams for more than a century.
Napa Valley is one of a few places making rich, fantastic Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon blends. This year we included this blend as a highlight of the 2020 Wine Buying Guide.
What’s exciting is that Groth turns out to be the first winery in Napa Valley to receive an elusive 100-point rating. This is their first-ever vintage of Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon.
Despite how cool old vines look, they’re actually quite difficult to profit on.
Gallica took on the responsibility of tending to an old vine plot organically with all its quirks. Good on yah.
For those who believe good wine starts with great grapes, why not start with a grower-producer who’s been cultivating in Napa Valley for decades. And, they’re doing it both sustainably and organically.
Tom Farella’s wines are not known for their bombastic qualities. Instead, this producer focuses on a Napa style that was once known in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Three generations of winemaking at Lamborn Family Vineyards came to a halt this year when fires rushed through their Howell Mountain vineyards.
“Despite the fire ravaging the forest around much of our vineyard burning fences and melting our irrigation, our vineyards made it through relatively unscathed with only minor foliage damage – it turns out vineyards make great fire breaks.”
–Mike Lamborn, Lamborn Family Vineyards
This wine is a Napa original Cab-Zin blend from organically farmed vineyards grown at 2,200 feet made by the cult classic winemaker, Heidi Barrett. Impressive.
The galant efforts of Ron Rosenbrand is partially to thank for saving Spring Mountain Vineyards historic mansion and vineyard estate.
During the fires, Mr. Rosenbrand (Spring Mountain’s vineyard manager), rushed to the estate to direct firefighters while is own home burned down to the ground.
We will drink Pinot Noir to you good sir!
This incredible site sits atop Spring Mountain with outstanding views of the valley below. They had barely evaded the first round of fires and then had to be evacuated.
Fires ripped through the vineyards making the fruit unsuitable for winemaking this vintage. Fortunately, the winery still stands!
Betty O’Shaughnessy wrote a moving post sharing her experience with the fires that raged through Angwin on Howell Mountain.
“our entire crop of red grapes still on the vines have been impacted by smoke. We will not pick them and we will not make any red wine in 2020. Thankfully, the vintages of 2018 and 2019 were generous. With time, we will gather our team and plan to keep O’Shaughnessy wines on your table.” –Betty O’Shaughnessy, O’Shaughnessy Estate Winery
The O’Shaughnessy Cabernet is one of those classic Howell Mountain wines that makes Cab lovers cry tears of joy. And hope.
Turning a New Leaf
Spring is around the corner, and good ideas are sprouting across the valley.
One important idea is supporting the lands beyond the vineyards, including the chaparral forests that make up Napa Valley’s fragile biome.
“It’s incredibly important that those of us with the privilege of tending a vineyard look at the entire landscape, not just the vines, and try to fill in holes in the local ecosystem with native plants as well as protecting our streams and rivers. Napa Green is a great start to an exciting journey of restoring and improving the land. ” –Steve Matthaisson, Matthaisson Wines
And, you don’t have to worry about running out of wine. The local trade association reported 80% of wineries are producing a 2020 vintage.