Vineyards work around strangely cool weather

August 18, 2010 7:48:50 PM PDT
In terms of the weather, the Bay Area has had a strange summer. There have been some of the coolest average temperatures since the 1960's, but the weird weather is worrisome to the grape growers of the wine country.

Wednesday proved to be anther weird summer morning with the Napa Valley fog on the mountain, grapes on the vines, and winemakers contemplating this season of local cooling, in a time of global warming.

"Usually this time of the year we're in the mid-90s, and we're in the mid-80s," says John Conover from PlumpJack Vineyards.

"We've had a cooler summer and I think it's related to the heat inland rising up and it pulls in more of the marine layer, more of the coolness," says John Ruel from Trefethen Vineyards.

Whatever the cause and effects, Napa Valley growers and winemakers met with reporters Wednesday in an effort to calm fears, and squash rumors about how 2010's odd weather will affect the next generation of wines.

"I would say it's cooler about two to three weeks behind a typical warm vintage," says Conover.

It is the nature of any winemaker to never say a vintage will be bad because of the weather. They're paid to work with what nature gives them and make a good vintage out of it. But this year truly might be special because the weather has been so distinctive.

At Trefethen Vinyards, Ruel has been working around, and with the weather all season. In times of less sun, he has his workers trim more leaves. To assure better quality grapes, they might let a few more fall to the ground.

"Sometimes we plant flowers here to attract beneficial insects that we want. I'll plant beans if I want to increase nitrogen," says Ruel.

The good news is that this year's slow warming hasn't spiked the sugar content as it usually would. The danger is that later ripening will mean a compressed picking season, possibly into November when the rains come.

"A day of rain is a not a problem, especially if it warms up after the rain. A week of rain is a bigger problem," says David Beckstoffer from Beckstoffer Vineyards.

But history shows a big upside. Vintners say previous cool seasons have produced some of the most distinctive vintages in recent memory. It's a matter of less that could yield more.


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