Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Spring in Napa Valley

Napa Valley is only an hour’s drive from here, but it might as well be 500 or 1,000 miles away considering how often we go. However, every time we visit I fall in love with it all over again. It is a stunningly picturesque valley, running north to south, surrounded on the western and northern sides by the Mayacamas Mountains and on the eastern side by the Vaca Mountains. The climate is Mediterranean and obviously as perfect as it gets for growing grapes since Napa Valley is one of the premier wine-making regions in the world.

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In early spring, the vineyards explode in a riot of green and yellow. The yellow is from wild mustard (Brassica juncea). History—or is it rumor?—has it that Spanish missionaries sowed mustard to mark the trail between their missions in California. It’s a wonderfully romantic story, but it is more likely that mustard was introduced as a cover crop and then just took over because it self-seeds so profusely.

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Wild mustard is very popular with vintners because it is so beneficial. It has a deep taproot that breaks up compacted soil and naturally repels nematodes that might otherwise damage grape vine roots. After it has peaked—and done its job of attracting tens of thousands of visitors—it is mowed and plowed under to add nitrogen to the soil.

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The photos in this post were taken on the eastern side of the valley along the Silverado Trail. I love the geometric patterns formed by the rows of grape vines in the vineyards, many of them alternating between yellow and green.

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Wild mustard can also be found outside of the vineyards, on hillsides and along the road. It truly is the most dominant plant in Napa Valley at this of year—so much so that it inspired the annual Napa Valley Mustard Festival, a popular art, music and wine festival that unfortunately this year has been scaled down because of the economy.

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Most of the old orchards that were planted alongside the vineyards are now gone, replaced by more vineyards, which admittedly are much more profitable than any orchard would ever be in Napa Valley. However, occasionally you still see fruit trees erupting in bloom in February. Their blossoms contrast beautifully with the vibrant green and yellow of the vineyards.

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On a warm day, the trees are alive with bees
and the occasional hummingbird

4 comments:

  1. Beautiful and inspiring! Really great photos!

    If your Blotanical feed was working I'd rave about this post. You should contact them and ask exactly *what* about your feed is "bad". There are several I've found recently that don't work right on Blotanical, but they're fine in RSS readers.

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  2. What spectacular looking views Gerhard! I'm not surprised you love the place. The third photo is my favourite.

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  3. Alan, thank you! I hope the technical issue with Blotanical is fixed now.

    Mark and Gaz, to me these gnarled grape vines look like skeletal hands reaching out from the earth. I guess I've watched too many zombie movies!

    Many wineries have beautifully landscaped grounds; I hope to go back later this year to photograph some of them.

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  4. Do so! I'm curious what the area looks like when the vines are in leaf :)

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