Friends and colleagues around the world have seen pictures of a very wet wine country in the media and many have contacted me wondering what the impact of all of these storms will be on grapevines.
Here’s what I posted on Facebook on Tuesday, January 11th after the first big storm (about 4.5 inches in 48 hours at our house in Napa) rolled through the area:
“Question: What do the recent rains mean for Napa and Sonoma grapes? I’ve seen pictures of flooded vineyards on the news and online.
Answer: Grapevines can tolerate flooding/”wet feet” for around 20 days. In fact, the French once used vineyard flooding to control the Phylloxera root pest. The recent Napa/Sonoma rains were acute (and did produce some “clickable” photos) but short lived. The few affected Napa valley floor vineyards I’ve seen this morning are draining out. Like everywhere else, the ground is saturated so you can bet everyone is going to be keeping an eye on trees, slopes and vineyard architecture (posts, trellises) to make sure we don’t have negative effects due to erosion and downed trees. I’m thrilled our vineyard reservoirs are full and that water tables are getting replenished- it bodes very well for the 2017 harvest.”
We are now facing another series of storm cells lined up off the Pacific Coast. It started with yesterday’s (Wednesday, 1/18/17) wet and windy day and isn’t supposed to stop coming until this coming Monday. The forecast is for around five inches to find its way into Napa and Sonoma Counties in as many days.
I predict that, once again, the news folks will be out snapping photos and shooting videos for their nightly newscasts. Once again, we’ll be sharing our soggy vineyard pictures on Instagram and reacting with the Facebook “Wow!” button when we see the Conn Dam spillway back in action.
For water-starved Northern Californians, I have to admit it’s been pretty fun to be able to finally see creeks rise and reservoirs get full-to-bursting, even though of course we don’t want anyone to get hurt or suffer serious property damage. The truth is, there will always be the low-lying areas (like poor Guerneville on the Russian River) that get waterlogged for a period of time. We will always have those corners of our vineyards that get “wet feet” and dry out later than everybody else.
As many of us in the grape-growing business have been saying this month, “Hey, we’ll take it!” Like I wrote above, it takes a lot of flooding for a long time to negatively affect a vineyard. After years of drought and parched vines struggling under super-dry conditions, I’m happy to see this season’s turn-around. This coming storm’s wet cycles are forecast to come in bursts, with at least half a day between them to allow creek levels to drop and vines to dry out. That sounds just about perfect to me.
Alison Crowe is an award-winning winemaker, blogger and author who lives in the Napa Valley.
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