Napa Valley winegrowers concerned by lack of rain

As each day goes by without any sign of significant rain, the what-ifs have begun to weigh on Napa Valley winegrowers.
January 2, 2014 6:25:23 PM PST
As each day goes by without any sign of significant rain, the what-if's have begun to weigh on us and among the concerned are Napa Valley winegrowers for whom the lack of rain is already leading to a loss of sleep.

Most of the recent weather has seemed "nice," but it hasn't been for wine producers, worried about water and trying to balance between quality and quantity with the upcoming vintage.

You may have heard of "silver linings to dark days." In California vineyards, it's the opposite -- ominous shadows cast by sunny skies. "It's bittersweet. It's bittersweet. There are both pros and cons to a dry growing season," says Amy Warnock with Napa Valley Grape Growers.

For Warnock, a viticulturist for Orin Swift Cellars, the cons are what rob her of sleep with every passing rainless night. Napa County received 4 inches this past growing season -- 4 inches, against an average of 25 inches.

That is alarming to growers, makers, and sellers across the region, especially industry veterans like Tom Davies at V. Sattui. "We are concerned. This is my 35th vintage coming up. This is about the driest I've ever seen it," he said.

It's so dry the hills are barren of the yellow mustard seed one would normally see, so dry the usual grass between vines is barely visible. "We should see some puddles. We should see quite a bit of cover crop growing," Warnock says.

We do see the normal buds on dormant plants that have yet to sense the season's dryness. That could change when they open.

"The worst case scenario would be that we don't get any rain in these following winter months and we start the growing season in March, vines come out of dormancy early, and then we have a big frost," Warnock explains.

That scenario is coupled with dry reservoirs or water rationing, which might prevent spraying the grapes for protection. Add in the prospect of lower yield and customers might see higher prices for this year's vintage, later on.

"Last year was dry as well so if this continues, I don't know. We could see maybe 5, 10 percent. That's just a guess at this point," Davies says.

But worries about the crop might be just a guess. January and February are the Napa Valley's big rain months and region has seen droughts before. It could all work out.


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