We’re moving into an era where climate change is already affecting our life. We may not realize the changes that are happening, but as the world’s climate continues to change, we need to take action now.
Some of the world’s top wineries are experiencing a crisis: the grapes they need for their top-quality wines are becoming less available. The vines are aging faster than the wineries can plant new ones. So, in their desperation, some of them are starting to experiment with new methods of growing grapes and new vintages that can be made from them. One of them is grapes engineered to withstand high levels of heat and drought.
Some people think that the future of wine is in natural wines, while others believe that the future of wine is in hyper-edible wines. Whatever your opinion, Napa has set itself apart from the rest of the wine world by producing wines that are not only delicious, but also protect the environment.. Read more about climate change 2021 and let us know what you think.There was a time when Americans had trouble pronouncing words like Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Maybe we’ll fight Manseng Noir or Arinarnua soon?
At this point, there is no doubt in Napa Valley that Kabuki is still king. In 2019, 64.6 percent of all red grapes harvested were Cabernet Sauvignon, which yielded an average of $7,941 per ton, the highest ever, according to the 2019 Napa County Crop Report.
In the same report, no other grape variety comes close to the 22,504 acres on which this grape is grown. Not the Chardonnay (5,950 acres), not the Merlot (4,072) and certainly not the Pinot Noir (2,680).
But taxis haven’t always dominated here. In 1966, when Robert Mondavi planted his Oakville vineyard, there were more acres planted with Carignan, Gamet, Zinfandel and Petite Syrah than with Cabernet.
With the region getting hotter and drier, exacerbating already acute problems of water, fire and disease, producers are again looking to diversify.
Shiraz vineyard at Larkmead Vineyard/ photo courtesy of Larkmead Vineyard
What is the threat to Cabernet?
In the 2018 Napa vintage report, Dr. Greg W. Jones, director of the Evenstad Wine Education Center at Linfield University in Oregon, writes that growing seasons in California have warmed by an average of 2.3 degrees between 1895 and 2018.
Climatologists like Jones predict that Napa Valley could move up from Winkler Regions III and IV, ideal for growing grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, to Region V, the hottest of all. This index is based on the sum of daily temperatures above 50˚F between April and October (in the Northern Hemisphere).
We have the opportunity to learn and discover, to bring and open people to drink other things. -Dan Petroski, winemaker at Larkmead Vineyards in Calistoga.
All of this means that many are concerned about the long-term survival of Cabernet.
More than 30 varieties were grown at Larkmead, including Zinfandel, Petite Syrah and Charbonneau, says Dan Petroski, winemaker at Larkmead Vineyards in Calistoga. Last year was the 125th. Anniversary of Larkmead’s foundation. How will this place evolve?
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Any wine named Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley must be 75% this grape, which leaves room for the use of other grapes in assemblages. These can be less inspired varieties from warm regions such as southern Italy, southern France, Spain and Portugal.
I’m interested in more heat-resistant grapes, as well as world-class wines and what makes them so special, Petroski says. We have the opportunity to learn and discover, to bring and open people to drink other things.
Although Napa is modeled after the châteaux of Bordeaux, Petroski is among those who believe it can also produce great examples of Spanish Tempranillo, Portuguese Turiga Nacional and Italian Aglianico.
Sheep graze in the newest block of the Albariño vineyard at Artesa Vineyards & Winery / Photo courtesy of Artesa Vineyards & Winery.
Growers and producers are experiencing shorter flowering and harvesting periods, and shorter ripening periods due to warmer and drier weather. Two fundamental questions are raised: How can we protect our most valuable assets from changing weather patterns and extreme weather events? And should we consider planting varieties other than Cab?
It’s hard to focus on both the present and the future, but certainly not without a clear idea of what that future will be, says Aron Weinkauf, winemaker and vineyard manager at Spottswoode in St Helena.
Weinkauf, which operates 38 acres of organic vineyards, is aware of the dramatic changes in climate. The five warmest years in the Napa Valley have been recorded since 2015.
According to him, programming becomes more difficult as the variables become more extreme and the frequency of variations increases. All these problems can be solved by trellis work, head modification, misting, shade cloths and irrigation methods.
Experimental grapeis grown at Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery / Photo provided by Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery.
At the same time, says Weinkauf, the will to survive and adapt of plants is often underestimated. The same goes for Cabernet Sauvignon. He tests different rootstocks for Cab and also many other varieties such as Alicante Boucher, Tinto Cao, Turiga Nacional, Susao, Mourvedre, Valdiguier, Carignan, Marcelan, Manseng Noir, Arinarnois, Falangina and Assyrtico. His goal is to expand his inventory of new wines and blends and deepen his knowledge.
Climate change is not just warming, but also an increase in climatic extremes, whether heat, drought or humidity, as well as new pests and stresses, Weinkauf said. I still think that biodiversity is the only real buffer against these trends.
Each of these annual ups and downs can help or hurt the components we look for in a good wine fruit – complexity, color, acidity – and as producers we want the fruit to be resistant to rot, water stress, mold and other diseases and pests.
Nicolas Quillet, MW, head winemaker and COO of Crimson Wine Group, believes it is important that Pine Ridge Vineyards in Napa Valley not only plant experimental varieties, but also grow Cabernet Sauvignon in the cooler areas of the region. Pine Ridge produces Cabernet Sauvignon at Howell Mountain, Oakville, Rutherford and in the Stags Leap area.
I’m concerned about climate change and the cabernet industry in Napa Valley, Quille says. We feel the effects of the intense heat and sun, the effects weaken the color, the grapes become increasingly tannic and the flavor becomes more jammy. The acidity decreases and the alcohol content increases.
Experimental grapeis grown at Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery / Photo provided by Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery
Changes in mixtures
According to Mr Quillet, the financial investment is too great to give up cabernet completely. He says winemaking methods and techniques can temper the heat, and Napa wineries should make an effort to do so. Along with 25% of the other varieties allowed in Cabernet blends, the goal is to enhance the fresh fruit character with grapes that ripen later, have higher acidity and lower sugar content, and are more drought tolerant.
BV Ranch 12 in Calistoga, Beaulieu Vineyards’ largest vineyard, features Touriga Nacional, Charbono, Tempranillo and Petite Sirah. An old Christian Brothers property that was planted with these varieties long ago. Winemaker Trevor Durling has bottled the 2018 Touriga Nacional.
Napa is great for growing a lot of things. The beauty of the wine industry is that we adapt. We must adapt, and we will. The question is: how soon? – Kale Anderson of Kale Wines
In 2022, Quille plans to plant an experimental vineyard in Oakville for five as-yet-unnamed varieties. He had his eye on Alicante Bouchet, Negroamaro, Marcelan, Lambrusco and a Russian hybrid from Crimea that is resistant to frost and cold, but also to heat and drought. They all need to be quarantined and cleaned before planting.
He also planted Cabernet Sauvignon in Carneros, in a cooler climate where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are usually grown. There are currently 10 acres of Cabernet in the ground, with plans to plant another 40 acres.
In Carneros, Artesa Vineyards & Winery grows eight acres of Albariño and nine acres of Tempranillo, and Ana Diogo-Draper, director of the winery, plans to add Graciano.
I think Tempranillo thrives best in more temperate climates, when the flavors can fully develop and the wines have rounder tannins and lovely floral notes, says Diogo-Draper. These vines are planted on some of the cooler parts of the property, allowing the grapes to ripen without losing their varietal character.
Malbec at Pine Ridge Vineyards / Photo courtesy of Pine Ridge Vineyards.
Cale Anderson, who began his career at Colgin Cellars, has been the champion of Rhone varietals in Napa Valley since he made his first barrel of Syrah in 2003.
Grenache and Mourvedre were planted for him in Rutherford in 2011, but only after he signed a 10-year contract that guaranteed he could buy the grapes. On this estate he produces red and rosé wine.
There is no monoculture in an ecosystem, he says. Napa is great for growing a lot of things. The beauty of the wine industry is that we adapt. We must adapt, and we will. The question is: how soon?
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