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It’s Complicated

09.14.11

It’s not an easy business, but it’s the business we love! Far Niente President and CEO Larry Maguire stops by to talk about just one of the challenges in winemaking: Mother Nature.

Are all businesses this complicated? Consider Mother Nature. Once a year, in the fall, we get our shot at making a great wine. Typically by today’s date we’d be up to our neck in grapes. Not this year. A cool spring and summer have pushed the grapes behind their “typical” harvest schedule. We are likely two weeks away from Chardonnay and three weeks or more for Cabernet. That, of course, creates a bit of stress but we keep our heads and ask, “How can that be? Aren’t we in the middle of global warming? Shouldn’t we be harvesting grapes sooner, not later?”

Well, actually we are in the midst of global climate change, and so far that has meant more cool, foggy Napa mornings, not fewer. It also seems to have brought some colder winter mornings, and this year, a rainy season that sprinkled up until the end of June.

A few years back, friends joked that we should pack our bags and our Cabernet vines and move to Oregon. By everyone’s guess Oregon would get warmer, just right for Cabernet, and Napa’s grapes would be wilting on the vine. Au contraire! Oregon’s grape country doesn’t appear warmer; they are experiencing a similar cool grape-growing seasons but with significantly more rain than Napa. It’s a good thing we didn’t rush up there on a land grab!

The weather moguls have blamed Napa Valley and Oregon’s spring rains on La Niña. This of course is the same thing they have blamed for this year’s severe flooding in the upper Midwest. As you most likely have guessed, the National Weather Service has stated that the La Niña effect has been responsible for the increased hurricane activity in the east this year. Is this all part of climate change? Perhaps it is, but it certainly hasn’t meant unfriendly grape growing temperatures in Napa Valley. We’ve seen nothing lately like the stifling heat of the summer of 1998, and guess what, the highest temperature recorded in the town of Napa was 113˚, but that was 50 years ago in June of 1961.

The Napa Valley Vintners have been proactive in research about the actual measurable effects of global climate change on grape growing. The preliminary results from 12000 data points indicate that there has been a 1 – 2˚ difference in nighttime temperatures between January and August, but there has been no statistically significant change in the important daytime growing temperatures. Nature’s air conditioning continues to roll into Napa Valley most summer mornings. For now, the only significant development from the warmer evening temperatures is that we’ve been dining outside more often. (Only semi-kidding here).

We are in the vintage wine business because we recognize that every year has its own distinct personality. Some vintages are riper and others more lean. Some years provide bumper crops and other years, like this year and last, will be short on volume. We embrace that and look forward to the challenges that each year brings. We celebrate the differences. We appreciate that the final evaluation will be made by you when the cork is pulled and not by the matrix calculations of climatologists. Yes, it’s a complicated business with so many elements outside of our control, but we wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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