A Year in the life of Chardonnay: Winter

Unlike most of the United States, winter in the Napa Valley is the greenest and most vibrant time of year. It is also the season in which the start of the growing season begins as our vineyard team is busy at work pruning the vines in anticipation of bud break in early spring.

Throughout the year, we invite you to follow the lifecycle of our Chardonnay vines from Lewis Vineyard in Carneros. Each season, we will provide an update as the vines develop and we prepare for harvest.

This winter in Napa Valley and in much of Northern California, we have been fortunate enough to receive a significant amount of early rainfall. Although it is still too early to tell what this will ultimately mean for the growing season, it is definitely a good start. The soil profiles at Lewis Vineyard are better than where we were last year in 2021 and the cover crops around the valley have bloomed earlier than in recent years.

Cover Crops

Cover crops are an essential part of ensuring vine health during and after winter dormancy as they enrich the soil with nutrients and provide a habitat for beneficial insects. If you have been to Napa Valley in late winter or early spring, you most likely have seen fields of florescent mustard growing between vine rows.

At Lewis Vineyard, we alternate what is planted between the rows, planting every other row with mustards (native brassica mix), and alternating those with a permanent grass and wildflowers, to help create a natural balance in vine vigor throughout the vineyard, along with enhancing the biodiversity where possible. 


Pruning is a standard practice in the cycle of the vine that helps reawaken it from dormancy and prepare it for the upcoming growing season by removing the canes from previous years. In some of our Lewis Vineyard blocks, we do what is called a “pre-pruning” which occurs in mid-December. During this process, we cut the vine shoots down to about 1 foot from the cordon (arms of the grapevine), to clean up the vines and brush, making it a little easier for our team to make make their final pruning cuts come January. 

At Lewis Vineyard, we use two different pruning systems based on the capacity of the vine to be able to produce more or less fruit. “We have both cane pruned and spur pruned blocks,” said Brittany Pederson, the Director of Viticulture at Frank Family’s contracted vineyard management company, Renteria. “This is mostly based on the age of the block, with the idea to convert things to cane pruned where possible to prevent wood diseases and spread in the future.”

What’s Next?

The first signs of life in the vineyard are only a few weeks away. We expect bud break to occur at Lewis Vineyard this year around the first week of March, which can range from late February to early March in any given year.

Follow @frankfamilyvineyards on Instagram to see the Chardonnay growth cycle in real time!