Wet Feet? What the recent rains mean for North Coast vineyards
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 72 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 everywhere else.
Even if pruning has to be delayed a little bit in some places, there is still time to get the work done before bud-break in early March. After years of drought and parched vines struggling under super-dry conditions, I’m happy to see this season’s turn-around. Because these acute periods of rain so far have been followed by at least a few days to dry out (we have at least six sunny days forecast starting Tuesday), many of us in the wine business have been saying, “Hey, we’ll take it!” I’ll even take a few vineyard blocks with wet feet because, after all, that’s what’s “normal” for this time of year in Northern California. For once, in an industry that increasingly values the rare and extreme, normal feels pretty good.
Alison Crowe is an award-winning winemaker, blogger and author who lives in the Napa Valley.