The Consequences of Our Cold Wave in Wine Country
It's overcast in the town of Napa at 8:00am. It will be overcast in the town of Napa at 9:00am. And probably 10:00am too. Later in the afternoon, the temperature spring northward to somewhere around 79 or 80 degrees. When the sun starts to go down around 5:30pm to 7pm, the fog will come back to certain areas and the wind will kick up. This evening the temperature will fall down into the 50s.
This was the weather story last week. This is what the weather will be like this week. And by all educated accounts, next week the most we can expect in Napa Valley is a high of around 85 degrees—in the northern part of the Valley.
What does this survey of the recent meteorological trends mean? What's the upshot of Northern California experiencing the summer that wasn't? It means grape growers (and winemakers) are starting to get a little worried. Strike that. A lot worried.
I spoke with one Napa winemaker who (and I checked) hadn't made a Cabernet Sauvignon in ten years that came in at less than 14.7% alcohol. I asked them about the weather. There response was spinalicious:
"I'm not too concerned. I'll just deal with what Mother Nature gives us and make the best wine possible. We've seen this kind of cooling trend before. I'm not worried."
The problem this kind of weather poses to grape growers in this neck of the woods is not that the grapes won't get ripe. They will get ripe. It's just that they won't get REALLY ripe, a condition upon which so many wineries have staked the reputation of their Cabernets, Syrahs and Pinot Noirs. In fact, if this weather keeps up, its entirely likely that some winemakers are going to have to learn how to make good Napa or Sonoma Cabernet with an alcohol content of (brace yourself)…12.5%.
Many Northern California Pinot Noir producers are going to have learn to live with a 13% alcohol content instead of 14.5%.
Of course the other problem that comes this kind of Republican weather pattern (cynics have come to call cold weather "Republican" in honor of their frequent dismissals of global warming) is the potential to see the grape crop rained upon as growers leave their grapes on the vine well into November hoping to pull out as much ripening as possibly form the dwindling hours of sunshine.
Clearly 2010 is looking to be a better vintage for early ripening grapes like Pinot Noir. But even the Pinots are likely to suffer a diminishing alcohol content. The question is this: is that a bad thing? I think it might be for many winemakers, particularly those that tend to produce big, fat, huge unctuous Pinots with high alcohol content. However, this will be the year you want to be sure to seek out the wines from vintners that make a habit of using or growing grapes in areas that are on the edge; who regularly make delicious wines in the 13% to 14% alcohol range due to the cool location of the grapes used to make those wine. You know the folks I'm thinking of.
But who knows what's going to happen after next week? It could brighten up, lots of sunshine will come, summer will arrive, grapes will ripen and the old adage that "every year is a vintage year in California" will be true once again.
Or, it might get even colder. Napa Valley restaurants will either shut down their outdoor eating areas altogetehr or invest in more heaters. Vineyard workers will wear coats and sweaters to keep the chill off instead of bandannas to keep the sweat out of their eyes. Visitors will simply think, "this sucks!"
I'm just saying…It's pretty cold here in Wine Country and there's no sign of relief.