Napa Valley Harvest 2011: Risk

Risk This last Saturday, wine grape growers in Northern California got a taste of the underside of risk. Morning sprinkles provided a window into what could happen if a harvest already 3 weeks behind schedule is further effected by early spring rains and/or cool weather.

These grapegrowers really didn't need to be reminded of the risk they take by betting on Mother Nature. They know already that planting grapes in a climate meant to bring them to maturity slowly, rather than quickly, means facing dire possibilities if the weather doesn't cooperate.

The risk was highlighted in an article in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat where Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, noted concerning the sprinkles, “I could have lived without it."

I'm not a farmer, so I don't bring that kind of experience to bare on what I've come to appreciate about success and joy. Still, I know this: Success and joy is almost always the result of taking the risk of failing spectacularly. Yet, the equation of risk and reward does not play out equitably. Put another way, it is not true that the greater the risk, the greater the reward. Put in poker terms, the small size of the pot often often argues against making even a small call.

I've recently spoken with three different Napa Valley winemakers. Each of them tend Cabernet Sauvignon vines, the most commonly planted variety in Napa Valley. All three told me the same thing: "I'll likely be harvesting in November."

The problem with this is the later one goes into the Fall, the greater the possibility of rain and weather that strands the crop on the vines, often ruining it. Last year in late October, we had torrential down pours in late October. The Valley was saved by relatively warm days following the rain. But it just as easily could have stayed wet. The same risk is faced by Napa Valley growers who are already face a harvest where the crop is much smaller than normal.


We all take them. We must if we are going to achieve anything great or good. Of late, my life is filled with them…in fact, some of the greatest risks I've ever taken. But if it works out, I will have achieved something great. I can't predict what will happen if the risk takes me southward.

For those who are fans of Napa Valley wines, I suggest you honor the grapegrowers who produce the grapes that are turned into the wines you like and say a prayer to whomever it is you pray. It can't hurt.

And for what it's worth, the Old Farmers Almanac has this to say about the weather in Napa this coming October:

OCTOBER 2011: temperature 66 ° (1 ° above avg.); precipitation 0.8" (0.4" below avg. north, 1" above south); Oct 1-2: Sunny, warm; Oct 3-5: Sunny, warm north; t-storms south; Oct 6-10: Sunny; cool north, warm south; Oct 11-13: Sunny, Santa Ana winds; hot coast, warm inland; Oct 14-16: Sunny, cool; Oct 17-19: Sunny, Santa Ana winds; hot coast, warm inland; Oct 20-26: Sunny; cool, then hot; Oct 27-31: T-storms, then cooler.


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