Posted by: Thomson Vineyards | July 5, 2011

Wine Industry Anti-Propaganda Party

While many of you hosted 4th of July parties among the vines, I held an anti wine and anti propaganda lake retreat at Mt. Lassen over the three-day weekend, followed by an All American beer only tailgate at AT&T park on Monday.  While sitting in holiday traffic, I came to the realization that for such a patriotic holiday there sure is an awful lot of propaganda floating around this industry as of late.

It takes a lot of good beer to make great wine

In honor of the 4th of July, and in the spirit of anti-propaganda, grab an All American Budweiser and settle in for a few truths I’ve recently learned while working on my All American girl tan in the vineyard.

1. Napa Valley vineyards depending on when they were pruned and the location of the site are either suffering or flourishing. Vineyard managers say that shatter it wide spread in valley floor Cabernet, Sauvingnon Blanc, and Chardonnay. Touch a cluster and watch it fall apart in your hand. Sonoma Pinot Noir and Chardonnay shoots underwent significant wind and rain damage which caused a disruption in flowering. Pest Control Advisors (PCAs) feel that specific vineyard sites seem to be more adversely affected, and not specific varietals. Mid to large sized operations who circulate pruning crews through multiple vineyards rapidly – pruned early and on time this year – just as they do every other year. Late La Nina storms were ill-timed during bloom affecting some vineyards ability to set a decent crop. Three different vineyard managers have told me production on the valley floor and in Carneros is down significantly. Thomson Vineyards prunes late every year intentionally. We time our bud break to occur at the latest point possible during the season which reduces our chance of frost damage. Due to our small-scale and focused viticulture practices, we have set a healthy and balanced crop with no frost damage. We also pushed bloom out far enough to avoid the late rains and wind storms. In a word, our crop is flourishing.

2. In 2009 and 2010 there were upwards of 60 listings for Carneros Chardonnay grapes for sale on at this same point in the season. As of today there are six. I reached out to every other Chardonnay grower listed on the classifieds and asked what their price was per ton in 2011, some responded, most wouldn’t. If you all haven’t been keeping up with the news, NEWSFLASH: we live in a new economy, welcome to the new normal, this aint temporary. For the wine industry this means growers must begin sharing with their neighbors more about their own pricing structure to hold the price steady and brush off the négociants who insist on living as if it’s still 2009.  This means wine grapes really are reaching <gasp> commodity status. See No. 1 Truth, look me in the eye, and tell me you aren’t going to sell fruit to Paso Robles wineries when they call because their Chardonnay crop was virtually obliterated back in April. It’s who you do business with and the value the wine grower brings to the winemaker and vice versa that creates competitive advantage in this market.

Fine Carneros Chardonnay

3. Thomson Vineyards Chardonnay is $2,400 – $2,900/T. If you don’t like those prices, I invite you to head down the road and buy another Carneros Grower’s fruit for $4k/T. Which is what one of the two sons told me it was going for as we poured beer together at the First Annual Wine Country Tractor & Truck Pull. The Napa Farm Bureau raised a good amount of money at the event due in part to my being the lone girl of the Young Farmers & Ranchers crew checking IDs, taking $5 a beer and all the tips you beer drinking gentleman could spare. Thanks for supporting 4-H, FFA and YF&R scholarships this year.

4. There is almost no available land to plant on the valley floor in Napa anymore. Only by spending upwards of $100k/acre blasting out the hillsides to terrace rocky alluvial soil will you find any land to plant. Two winemakers recently showed me a video taken on iPhone, at a high-end Cabernet tasting, of their new “site” being developed with an ample supply of dynamite on the Stage Coach property. I was not impressed. Nor did I give them my number when they asked for it. My unlabeled merlot got polished off that night, well before their commercially produced swill.

5. J Bonne wrote an article going into this holiday weekend. In it I found some interesting points and some fairly ridiculous points. One of which relates to Truth No. 4. Bonne wrote, “One of the most stubborn gaps in California wine is between grower and winemaker. With a new generation of winemakers who very much want to farm, but can’t acquire their own land, now’s the time to reconsider that gap by encouraging winemakers to hop on the tractor.” People. Please do not sell any more land, or lease any more vineyards to the guys who call themselves winemakers, carrying iPhones, with former  Silicon Valley VP titles, who think it is cool to spend $100k blowing up the hillsides of Napa. There are 31 postings for Cabernet grapes for sale on, buy some of that stuff off the market.

Cal Poly Collegiate Team 2011

5. I’ve haven’t hopped on the tractor so far this year. Mostly because The Farmer has monopolized his three rig fleet, two Fords and an International, dragging a disc, creating perfectly straight lines through the damp soil. For an old farmer this is a lost art. Permanent cover crop and overgrown “organic” farming practices have led to tre chic vineyard practices. In the old days The Farmer assures me this was known as “lazy” farming.  So while he’s on the tractor, I have been doing a lot of hand labor. Leaf pulling, thinning and replacing end posts. A month ago I discovered Gelish manicures. This Truth is for all the women working in the industry. Gelish really does withstand  two or more weeks of vineyard work without a single chip and maintains its glossy top coat for 14+ days. So far I’ve gone through one application of international orange in honor of the World Champion SF Giants and a second application of Barbie doll pink. The more girly the better for working with the men in the vineyard.

6. I was invited to speak at the Mendocino Winegrape Commission bi-annual seminar a few weeks ago where I attempted to cover Thomson Vineyards marketing strategy in under 20 minutes. I subscribe to the theory that you could write a plan about what you’re going to do – or you could just do it.  If Mendocino can manage to put some growing degree days up on the board this season, I suspect that they really are growing some great fruit and have the marketing infrastructure in place to make an impact with their wines in an already crowded industry. I’ve actually dialed back my marketing strategy this year. Last year I averaged one blog post a week, one tweet a day. I am currently averaging one blog post a month 7.5 tweets a day. Two Direct Messages (DMs) have come through this month amongst 1,100 followers asking how much Thomson Vineyards fruit is and if any more is still available. See Truth No. 3. And YES, I’ve got clones 76,96,97 Chardonnay fruit available for a winery interested in making wine from some of the best, and only Dijon clone, Carneros Chardonnay on the market. Clone 809 smells like floral cleaning solvent. Just sayin’

Water rights. Whose right is it?

7. The Farm Bill was vetoed last week. Maybe it should have been more appropriately titled the Big Ag Bill. You can quickly get up to speed about what the bill entailed on Civil Eats Top 10 List of Things You Should Know About the Bill. We’ve got some of our own Big Ag to deal with in Carneros. After illegally building a resevoir, diverting air mass and water, making both properties susceptible to flooding and frost Domaine Chandon, owned by Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and managed by Walsh Vineyards Management is installing a catch drain to collect and fill their resevoir with water designated to Thomson Vineyards by the State of California water rights board. We’ve held the water rights to drainage from Hwy 12 and Los Carneros Creek since 1948. At the same time, UpValley Growers tell me they’ve seen big shop wine operations hauling in cheaper Central Valley day labor on an every day basis. Which pretty much puts a damper on Napa wine associations touting the use of skilled local Napa labor, supporting the local economy and families, doesn’t it? These two examples give new meaning to the terms “corporate” and “social” responsibility in my Millennial eyes. Please keep this in mind as you cruise the Champagne section at your local wine shop and select your next bottle of bubbles or make plans for summer Sunday brunch and mimosas.

8. As of today the USDA is still blocking out of state shipments of Napa fruit in 2011 due to the juice sucking European Grapevine Moth. The Napa Ag Commissioners Office assures me they are working on it. We are one of five growers on the list who will potentially ship fruit to the growing number of  wineries across the US who cannot grow cool climate varietals like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. As one industry old timer told me the other day, with the humidity, extreme climates, and other adverse weather conditions, “I don’t envy any other grower in any other state – I wouldn’t want to grow anywhere but California!”

9. And as tradition would have it, just when the SF Giants get really deep into the season, is just about the time I announce my annual walk up song. It’s the song I play in my head as I supervise crews in the morning, it’s what you can be sure it playing in my head as I throw down just how much you’re going to pay if you want what’s left of Thomson Vineyards 2011 Chardonnay, it’s what @Clivity would call his anthem, except he’ll be sure to tell you to get your damn hands up. I am undecided at the time of this post just what my anthem is. Leave your suggestions in the comments. I’ll load up my iPod.

Carneros: Producing better grapes and better wine since 1976

10. Signage recently went up two driveways away from Thomson Vineyards in Carneros. Positioned roadside, a sheet of plywood has been painted out with the words “NO DUST” Apparently word hasn’t gotten out. If you’re looking to buy grapes in Napa, Carneros produces better Pinot Noir and Chardonnay fruit than any of other subappellation. It’s the DUST that makes our grapes so good!

If there’s any question about the truthiness in this post, I suggest you take a moment and get a good picture of Jack Nicholson in his dress blues in your head. Then fast forward to the line he’s most famous for in a Few Good Men, and imagine he’s talking directly to YOU, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth.”  How’s that for the truth?


  1. Enjoy the post. A few comments,
    Truth 1 – From what I have heard from our grower rep it is hit and miss everywhere for vines without shatter. This puts growers in a good position for a change. Relates to Truth 3, I think $2400-$2900 a ton isn’t unreasonable.
    Truth 5 – Plenty of good fruit for wine producers to buy. I haven’t had a bad cabernet yet in Napa/Sonoma so if the grower takes good care of the vines and the price is reasonable go for it. It doesn’t need to be from Te Kalon to be an outstanding wine. That is where the winemakers skill comes in.
    The Silicon Valley guys think they are re-inventing the wheel with new vineyards/clones. Too many egos, too much money, not much sense.
    Truth 7 – sorry to hear about your water troubles. What do you do? Sue them? Shipping in labor from the central valley?!?! I am sure you are not suprised.

    Hope all goes well for this year.

  2. Jennifer, we prune late as well, for the same reasons you do. All I have to say is you lucked out. We don’t have a lot of shatter anywhere but in the Grenache. But everything – every variety – looks like our Pinot did in 2005: light crop with HIGHLY variable set. Never mind – our 2005 Sonoma Valley Pinot turned out pretty great despite the farming challenges.

    That really sucks about LVMH stealing your water. Are you guys on your own with the courts as your only recourse? Or will the state and local water agencies attempt any sort of enforcement?

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