a very minimal 1-2° Fahrenheit increase in
overnight temperatures in winter into early
summer with no effect on vine growth or
grape phenology.
One is not tasting climate change in a glass
of Napa Valley wine—longer hang time,
winemaker style or consumer taste prefer-
ence yes, but not climate change as it has
not happened yet. But this doesn’t mean
that growers and winemakers should not be
mindful of climate change, but quite the op-
posite.
Should growers pick up their vineyard and
move it to the Oregon coast? Absolutely
not, because of this complexity: many cli-
mate scientists believe that the coastal re-
gions to our north could become wetter, and
thus, impact bud-break, fruit set and bloom.
Then, without good sunlight, ripening is im-
pacted. Vine diseases and pests also be-
come more problematic in areas without
long dry periods.
Northern Californians love to quote Mark
Twain who said, “The coldest winter I ever
spent was a summer in San Francisco.” The
Pacific Ocean is the Napa region’s great-
est temperature control. It’s known that
the warmer the Central Valley becomes on
a summer day, the more intensely the fog
pours in from the coast. This is the “vacu-
um effect” of a warmer interior valley. Napa
Valley has been blessed to have the perfect
mix of warm days and fog/coastal cooling
that allow vintners to grow some of the fin-
est wines in the world.
Globally, the years 1998, 2005, 2006, 2010
and 2011 were the warmest years on record,
but consider the fact that they were some
of the coolest recorded for the Napa Val-
ley. There is some suggestion by climate
scientists that as the interior areas warm
in the future, that Napa Valley may actu-
ally become cooler, or foggier. Either way,
warmer or cooler, it’s different than what
growers are experiencing today—so as pru-
dent farmers they need to look at all pos-
sible scenarios and consider best practices
to continue to grow the best wine grapes.
Once scientists have established a solid
understanding of the climates within Napa
Valley, it is hoped they will be able to cre-
ate a model to predict future changes, and
look at what modifiers might be appropri-
ate both short- and long-term in the vine-
yard. For example, if the region starts to
warm a couple of degrees, in-field growers
can look to change the heavily manicured
trellising systems currently employ to pur-
posefully get sunlight onto grape clusters;
cover crops can be grown differently to
mitigate heat; irrigation techniques could
be altered and so on. Then, rootstock could
be changed since this is the energy engine
of the vine, different rootstocks that dic-
tate different vine vigours could be planted.
And, these are just scratching the surface of
potential in-field practices.
At the end of the day, for now at least, cli-
mate study is a predictive science where
vintners, growers and researchers are work-
ing hard to provide a road map for what
could be on the horizon.
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