Evidence of the coming spring arrives early each year in California’s Napa Valley.
The fall colors of the most recent harvest now a faded memory, the stark rows of grapevines up and down the valley floor seem to have been covered in a blanket of yellow.
Long before Punxsutawney Phil shows his face in Pennsylvania, wild mustard plants seem to almost submerge the Napa vines.
Grape growers and winemakers welcome their annual appearance, and use them as cover crops to protect the vines against late-winter frosts.
The mustard plants also help replenish nutrients in the vineyard soils, and play an important role in minimizing erosion.
For nearly two decades, residents of the valley have celebrated the return of the mustard flowers with a series of culinary and other special events.
The 18th annual Napa Valley Mustard Festival kicked off yesterday and will continue through March 26. If you’re planning a visit to the valley during that timeframe, check out the festival’s website for a detailed schedule: www.mustardfestival.org