“In 1966, with the opening of his eponymous winery in Oakville, Robert Mondavi, Napa’s elder statesman, recognized the unique qualities of Napa Valley soils and the wines they produced. ‘We knew then that we had the climate, the soil and the varieties that made our own distinct style of wine that could be the equal of the great wines of the world, but it did require the winegrowing and the wisdom to know how to present it to the world.’”
– Well-known wine writer Gerald D. Boyd quoting the late Robert Mondavi in his article The Science Behind The Napa Valley Appellation (https://www.napavintners.com/downloads/Gerald-Boyd-Essay.pdf)
If Humboldt Underground had a point for every time Humboldt County’s (Emerald triangles) cannabis industry was likened to Napa Valley’s wine industry, then we would be loaded (at least doing better than most indoor growers at the moment – ouch, sorry). But lets face it, there are a lot of similarities between Napa’s wine industry and Humboldt’s cannabis industry – best weed in the nation, best wine in the nation (maybe world) etc – but there are a lot of differences as well. Therefore, instead of just giving this comparison peripheral lip service, HU staff has decided to take a deeper look at this comparison. Following our three-part piece comparing Humboldt County’s cannabis industry; Napa Valleys’ wine industry; and Silicon Valleys’ tech industry, this article will unpack (turn the turkey bag over on) the played-out comparison between Napa and Humboldt County.
In the Paris Judgment of 1976, Napa Valleys’ Cab’s and Chardonnay’s beat out wines from the Bordeaux region of France (long regarded as the top wine producing region in the world) in a blind tasting by French Judges. For many, this marked the point Napa Valleys’ wine industry became world renown. No one thought wine from the Bordeaux region of France could be topped, it was the pinnacle, but Napa Valley’s wine prevailed and are now rightfully considered among the best in the world.
Napa Valleys’ fate as one of the planets premiere wine regions was determined long before this Parisian judgment. According to Napa Valley Vintner’s (http://www.napavintners.com), Napa’s (1) soil and geology, (2) climate, (3) viticulture, (4) winemaking, (5) history, and (6) leadership all amalgamated to steer Napa Valley wines toward their modern fame.
California’s (including Napa Valley) relatively recent geology – only 150 million years old – has created a “big soup” of bedrock on which a layer of marine, glacial, and volcanic sediments reside. Half of the world’s soil orders exist in Napa Valley. This soil diversity provides well-balanced and fertile soil in which many varieties of wine grapes can survive and thrive.
Gerald D. Boyd uses a unique visual in The Science Behind The Napa Valley Appellation to demonstrate Napa’s geology: “If it were possible to view a cross section of the Napa Valley, divided on a north-south axis, showing the mountains, the valley floor, the surface soils and underlying stratification, the dense layered scene would resemble a complex, enigmatic painting by the 16th century Flemish artist, Heronymous Bosch. Texture, form, color and other components, blend and whirl, separate and diverge, presenting a matrix far too complex to be digested in one take.”
In the valley, climate and geology overlap with geography, creating a diversely unique region. The mix of soil sediments, cold oceanic winds and hot valley air, mountains and river valleys create a remarkably Mediterranean climate (which only exists in 2% of the world). Warm days, cool evenings, and dry summers allow wine grapes to ripen slow and easy. At night, marine air rolls in from the Pacific and moderates the high summer temperatures from the central valley; this translates into grapes that exhibit a balance between sweetness and acidity. Three distinct (major) climate zones exist in Napa along with a number of sub-appellation microclimates. These microclimates allow for many distinct varieties and flavors of grapes and wine.
Viticulture – the science, production, and study of grapes – began taking advantage of the numerous sub-appellations in Napa by pairing certain varieties of grapes with certain combinations of soils, microclimates, and geographies. The abundant sub-appellations and microclimates combined with many small producers of grapes – which is the norm in Napa – has allowed for terroir driven wines – in which soil, topography, and climate are reflected in the taste, smell, and mouth of a particular wine from a particualr area (and all regions and areas have a unique terroir). Along with providing winemakers with terroir-determined grapes, vintners have used research and technology to improve ripeness through canopy pruning, irrigation, fertilizer, and composting.
Winemakers can highlight a certain regions terroir by using grapes from a single area or blend grapes from different areas in order to create multi-layered complex wines. Provided with such diverse fine grapes, Napa’s winemakers usually opt to let the fruit express its Self. Besides being provided world-class berries, wine artisans are also provided cutting edge technology and research by UC Davis’s experimental vineyard (which is located in Napa). These factors provide winemakers with everything they need to produce world-renowned wine and now Napa Valley attracts the best winemakers from around the world.
Napa’s vintners and winemakers are apart of a storied past. Napa Valley’s connection to wine began well before the gold rush; in the late 1930’s war veteran (War of 1812) and trapper, George Yount (Yountville being his namesake) planted the Valley’s first commercial vines. Since then, a host of visionaries, pioneers, and risk takers have helped usher in the wine industry of modern Napa Valley. The first vintners were markedly European: Jacob Schram, Jacob Beringer, Gustave Niebaum, and Charles Krug. These were and are the forefathers of Napa’s wine industry, which blossomed to over 140 wineries by 1861. However, by the late 1800’s Napa’s vineyards were decimated by Phylloxera (a grape vine eating pest), WWI, and Prohibition; leaving only a handful of wineries by the 1920’s – making “sacramental” wines for churches due to the Volstead Act. By the end of Prohibition – with the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933 – a new group of pioneers led to the recovery of Napa Valley’s wine industry. Georges de Latour, John Daniel Jr., Andre Tchelischeff, Robert Mondavi, and others realized that they had to work together in order to restore Napa Valley’s vineyards. In 1968, Napa Valley became a Government recognized Agricultural preserve in order to prevent urban sprawl, promote sustainability, and take care of future generations of winemakers.
This type of vintner leadership – with cooperation already apart of Napa’s wine community – led to the creation of the organization of Napa Valley Vintners. This group started by the likes of Mondavi, Tchelischef, and Latour worked and continues to work toward protecting Napa’s brand integrity by self imposing strict quality, sustainability, and environmental practices while guarding against those who trade upon Napa’s good name. Customers must know that there wine actually comes from Napa Valley grapes and they must know that those grapes are the highest quality. In addition, Napa Valley Vintners raise money for marketing Napa’s Valley’s wine industry and help the community by donating ($100 million) to different Napa based non-profits.
Wow, Ok… Good Job Napa Valley Vintners (thumbs up)!
HU learned a lot from this analysis, but now let’s pull ourselves away from this emersion into Napa’s wine industry and look at what we can use to compare and contrast with Humboldt’s cannabis industry.
If we look at the themes – provided by Napa Valley Vintners – that lead to the rise of Napa Valley’s wine industry, then we can see if they are present in Humboldt County’s cannabis industry.
So what were those themes? They were: (1) soil and geology, (2) climate, (3) viticulture, (4) wine making, (5) history, and (6) leadership.
Now we simply have to ask ourselves…
Is Humboldt County’s (1) soil and geology optimal for growing cannabis? According to Jorge Cervantes grow bible, loam soil with the correct texture, pH, and nutrient content is ideal for growing cannabis. This is fairly obvious, but after our analysis of Napa, HU wonders if different varieties of cannabis thrive in different balances of soil? And do these balances exist in Humboldt?
Is Humboldt’s (2) climate ideal for cannabis agriculture? What is the ideal climate for cannabis? Does it vary by variety? Cannabis can grow damn near anywhere but optimal climate makes for optimal cannabis… Too hot (85 degrees) and cannabis stops growing, too cold and frost can kill plants and contribute to mold. Oh mold… too wet (humid) and cannabis WILL mold. Also too warm and humid, and ideal conditions for pests and fungus are created. Without just the right amount of cold and heat, which keeps pests at bay, cannabis is at the mercy of mites, root knot, powder mildew, botrytis and more. Too much wind and plants become wind chapped and further susceptible to infestation. Yada, yada, yada…
(3) Viticulture and (4) Winemaking? Cannaculture and Hashmaking!!! Does Humboldt County have stalwart Cannaculture – or the science, production, and study of cannabis? Basically, does Humboldt have experts on the science, production and study of cannabis? Does Humboldt have renowned Hashmakers (see Frenchy Cannoli in last weeks Underground Review)? Do our Cannaculturalists and Hashmakers have access to/use cutting edge technologies and research to increase the quality of our cannabis and hash?
Does Humboldt have the (5) history to accompany world-renowned cannabis? Does Humboldt have the (6) leadership and cooperation to usher in a world-renowned industry – imposing practices that guarantee’s quality, sustainability, and environment while promoting, strengthening, and protecting community, industry, and name (brand)?
Well you tell us… HU isn’t about the answers; we like to ask the questions. HU will address these questions in future posts but for now we want to hear what you have to say.
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