Posted by: Thomson Vineyards | September 1, 2010

Know Your CA Wine Grape Farmer

Do You Know Who Farms Your Wine Grapes?

First day of school photos are the best. You’ve been playing at the lake all summer long, riding bikes with your neighborhood gang, drinking slurpees from the 7-11 for three months long, then September rolls around and your mom is shoving a lunch in your hand and snapping photos that 10 years from now you’ll look back on and think, “what’s with the hair?”

Today was like the first day of school – except my mom didn’t put a lunch in my hand, I put a baseball hat on, and instead of heels and a dress I reached for boots and jeans. I also got away without the first day of school pic since it was 5:45 a.m. when I left for the vineyard to meet with several rounds of Chardonnay winemakers cruising the market for fruit.

After prepping the vineyard from 6-7 a.m. with field markers indicating what rows I wanted to be in and where, I made two rounds through the vineyard with alternating winemakers, doing a viticulture preview of what’s been done so far and what is yet to come.

I practically stood in front of a green screen predicting and forecasting the weather as the  upper level ridge axis moves across California and the heat from the sun ratchets up faster than even Al Gore can make his next global warming flick. All of that is closely followed by a Public Relations campaign of epic magnitude on what the sunburn means for the farmers and what it means for the winery. Loss for us, win for them. Throw in a bit of marketing jargon with notes on clone 97 and why it’s “special”  followed up by Cal Poly Alumni pat on the back and UC Davis smackdown (who’s gonna win the Golden Horseshoe this year fellas?) I made it home just in time for lunch and for my mom to snap a first day of farming picture.

That’s right it’s Know A California Farmer kick off day, and thought I’d celebrate big time by quitting my desk job with the city of San Francisco as the strategic communications manager and put a face to farming, Napa Style. Yeah, I know it’s some upscale Wine Country living magazine, but that’s not what I mean.

There are numerous individuals out there looking for jobs in the wine industry, funny I haven’t come across one of you who’s looking for a job in farming. As the farmer says, “you gotta know how to farm before you can make wine son.” I’ve tempered that feeling and added my own spin – you gotta know a little about your farmer and have a lotta’ faith in luck, god, or otherwise to make a damn fine wine.

Thomson Vineyards is growing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Merlot wine grapes for some of the up and coming winemakers in the Napa Valley. Our resume isn’t long, but we’ve been around a long time. Sure we used to be with Franciscan who’s now with Constellation. And yeah, we’ve made the rounds at the bubble houses. We even helped well known winemaker Greg Graham of Rombauer achieve one of the first 90 points awarded to a white wine by Wine Spectator – made with our Chardonnay fruit.

But I’ve set a new line as the Fourth Generation of Thomson Vineyards and we’re mixing it up with a few guys Rebuilding Napa Valley Programs, Santa Barbara Soon to be Legends, Sierra Foothills Champagne Cults, and the San Francisco Bay Infamous Winemaker.

I’m pretty happy with the relationships we’ve established. As I noted last week on Vinotology, The Farmer is still testing out some of the relationships. I tell you, by the time a man realizes what he’s got, she’s gone. I mean…the fruit is sold.

And with that people, here’s the September 1 Status Report:

– Carneros Chardonnay is at about 20 brix, a quarter of the crop is sunburned which will ultimately channel energy into the fruit that remains intact on the morning side of the row, concentrate flavors, and reduce ton per acre. That’s what all you winemakers want right? Come and get it, we’ve got it, 40T last week still to sell, now down to 25T thanks to the sun’s sizzling rays!

– Carneros Pinot Noir is at about 21 brix. Two winemakers have cruised through and commented on the tasty fruit. It’s the Carneros dust that makes it so tasty. Dive on in, 4-6T still for sale.

– Monticello Merlot is at 10% veraison and we’ll pull latterals the end of the week to push the ripening along. Pulling latterals costs money and takes labor. Fortunately for The Farmer I work for free and when I say free I mean margaritas and an occasional fancy dinner out on the town. The Infamous Winemaker has staked his claim for 2010, which is good because I’m counting on him to make some More Than Infamous Merlot.

– And finally, back to the sunburn. I can see it as I drive the valley in every vineyard. Dana Zacconne of GeoVit Services says that irrigation timing unfortunately had little to no effect on managing the damage. Irrigating at the right time, can sometimes make a difference in such matters. But call Al Gore for the details, I’m sure he can say something on the issue. It’s 90 degrees in Carneros today and this farmer knows you can’t manage the weather, you can only manage expectations and realities.

In reality, I think I’m gonna’ look back on this first day of full-time farming and think to myself, glad I grabbed the Cal Poly hat, I look pretty damn good.

Be sure to Follow The Farmer & The Millennial Daughter on Twitter this #Harvest10. It’s ’bout time you got to know your wine grape farmers – they’re growing some awfully damn fine wine!


  1. Thanks for this great post. Not enough wine drinkers know, care or understand the fact that grapes are actually farmed by actual people to make real wine. Keep on telling the stories!

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