Over time, the output from older grapevines begins to diminish. Although vines can often live 50 to 100 years or more with care, the grapes tend to become smaller, and the flavors change, sometimes becoming more concentrated.
For the vineyard manager and their wine making clients, these developments are not necessarily welcome. Since the life-cycle of quality, highly productive vines is usually about 25 years, decisions to remove and replace a portion of a vineyard are driven often by shifting market demand, a winery’s quest for quality improvement, and improving production efficiency.
Commitment to Quality Vineyard Management
Vineyard management is a year-long, day-in-day-out effort. Some top Napa vineyards are owned and managed by wineries that understand their customers’ preferences and wish to produce the perfect product mix of the highest quality wines. Through their vertically integrated production system, Hill Family Estate, one of the finest Yountville wineries, chooses to match their own grape production with the expectations of their discriminating clientele.
The Hill family patriarch, Doug Hill, applies his four decades of experience and technical skills to manage many Napa vineyards, including ones dedicated strictly to the Hill Family Estate wine production.
Replacing One of the Napa Valley Vineyards
Although replacing a vineyard is a lengthy and expensive process, given that new vines do not produce grapes until after at least three seasons, an organizational commitment to long-term quality improvement is the key motive.
This year, Doug Hill and Hill Family Estate have elected to remove and replace a 5.83-acre vineyard south of Yountville that had been planted in the 1990s. The vineyard, acquired in 2019, produces Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes.
Although some Yountville wineries are still producing good wines from older vines, the Hill Family chooses to maintain its long-term aim of producing wines that rank only among the best.
To this end, the removal of the vines is slated for the summer of 2020. Soil preparation will occur in the fall, and the new vines are scheduled for replanting in Spring 2021.
Replacing Old Vines with New
The process of replacing and replanting a new vineyard goes as follow:
- Rip out the old vines
- Determine new row directions, if needed, to optimize future production
- Place new trellises, end posts, and wiring to guide the growth of the news vines
- Soil analyses
- Add organic matter to enhance the soil quality
- Plant a cover crop in the winter to provide nutrients to the soil
Before planting anything, the grower analyzes the site to determine which will be the best varieties for the site’s unique conditions, or “terroir.” Ideally, new vines will develop distinctive characteristics that make the wines both unique and desirable.
Commitment to Quality
Removing and replacing a vineyard is a time, capital, and labor-intensive process. The Hill Family continues to demonstrate its commitment to continuous improvement by making this very substantial investment. Accepting the status quo is not a part of the Family’s DNA.
In a few years, we can anticipate superb results from this Yountville winery’s substantial undertaking.