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24 Sep

Robert Biale Vineyards has submitted a plan to the city for a single family home subdivision on the land that now hosts one of its vineyards, co-owner Bob Biale confirmed.

The land, which runs along El Centro Avenue and is bordered by residential housing in Napa, has been in Biale’s family since 1937. Biale and his siblings, Sandra Rossomando and Mark Biale, who each own equal shares of the vineyard, began discussing the fate of the property a few years after the death of their father, Aldo, almost a decade ago.

Biale said the planned development and sale of the land is part of a larger effort to settle the family’s estate, which gained traction after the death of their mother, Clementina, in April of 2017.

“The simple truth is in order to save some land, we had to sell some land. It’s not an easy decision by any means,” Biale said, adding that Aldo’s Vineyard, Biale’s vineyard on Jefferson Street, will remain. “The fact is it was my grandmother’s home site, and to give that up – you can’t replace that. In our mind, it’s priceless.”

Randy Gularte, the real estate broker who is working with Biale on developing the project, said the lot would encompass “approximately 53 single family homes”. Gularte’s team, which includes designer architect Kirk Geyer and civil engineering firm RSA+, is currently reworking the submission based on comments from the city of Napa, he said.

“We’re looking forward to making it work for the city, because we definitely need housing,” he added.

Ali Shull, whose home on El Centro Avenue directly faces the vineyard land in question – which Biale and his family call the “Home Ranch” – said she’d first heard “rumblings” about the land’s future about two and a half years ago.

“What we’ve heard is that they’re trying to be cognizant of the style (of the development),” Shull said, adding she perceives the family as respectful toward their neighbors. “I think it’s a sign of the times. They’re the people that are left from a family that has owned the land forever… it’s just progress.”

One neighbor, who declined to give their name because they said they had hired a lawyer to discuss seeking concessions from the developers, said they’d first learned of the proposed development about a year and a half ago, when Biale sent out a notice. They described themselves as resigned to the fact that the changes were “coming no matter what,” aware that the land is already zoned for housing. Their property backs up to vineyard land.

Home Ranch Vineyard and Aldo’s Vineyard, a registered historic vineyard, are two of a dwindling number of vineyards that still exist within Napa city limits. Aldo’s Vineyard is one of 11 registered historic vineyards in Napa Valley.

Gularte has worked on one other development built on existing vineyard land inside city limits, he said. That project, just off of Orchard Avenue in Napa, was purchased and is being built out by Lafferty Communities, a San Ramon based-firm.

Nothing will change from a wine-making standpoint, Biale said, since the timeline of the family’s decision to develop the land provided time to find new grape growing sites. The grapes from Home Ranch currently go into Biale’s Black Chicken Zinfandel, but the new vineyards should “come online” in time to replace any loss of fruit, according to Biale.

“It’s a personal loss, but like all things, goodness can come from it,” Biale said. “From a winery perspective, we’re gaining incredible new vineyard sites, and from the city point of view, they’re gaining a beautiful project. We think it’s the right call.”

There’s still much to be done for the project before any building begins, according to Gularte: he and his team are hoping to complete a second submission to the city in the next couple of weeks. The ensuing timeline will be dependent on whether or not the city’s comments are approving, he said. From there, the submission must go before the planning commission, and then before city council. If approved, the project must be purchased by a developer before any ground is broken, Gularte said, adding that “another growing year” could come and go for Biale before they sell the property.

Shull, who has lived in her home on El Centro for eight years, reminisced about the vineyard at harvest time – its absence will be a loss, she said, but one she added ultimately wouldn’t impact her quality of life.

“It’s sad – Napa changes, and it’s sad, but it’s life,” Shull added.

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21 Sep

More visitors are spending more money and more time in Napa Valley, leading to higher hotel revenue and daily room rates. And while new local hotels have opened in recent years, occupancy remained relatively stable, dipping less than a percent over the previous 12 months.

The data was reported by Visit Napa Valley during its annual Partnership Conference on Thursday afternoon at the Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Theater in Yountville.

“The hospitality experience of the Napa Valley is second to none compared to other wine regions. That’s why the numbers are the way they are,” said Linsey Gallagher, Visit Napa Valley CEO, in an interview on Tuesday. “We’re very fortunate.”

That being said, Gallagher said her team is also watching for signs of recession or other potential challenges.

However, the overall picture is favorable, according to Gallagher. The average daily room rate for a Napa County hotel room rose 7 percent from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019. The average rate is now $327 per night. Lodging room revenue for that same 12 months rose 8 percent, from $33.6 million to $36.3 million.

Occupancy dipped slightly, from 71.2 percent to 70.7 percent.

That’s good news, said Gallagher. “We’ve had some new (lodging) properties come on line and this shows there is room for everyone to be successful even with new entrants in this market.”

“I don’t feel were in a position of oversupply” of lodging rooms, said Gallagher. “Supply and demand are balanced.”

At the same time, Napa Valley can’t rest on its laurels, said Gallagher.

Other destinations are striving to become the alternative to Napa Valley, she cautioned. “They are getting their act together at other destinations about having a compelling reason to visit. We’re going to have to be creative and be scrappy and try new things. We’re going to have put more effort. But we’re ready.”

According to Visit California, there’s been a decline in international travel to California. In July, overseas visitors at California ports of entry dipped 3.8 percent year-over-year. Visitors from China declined 8.6 percent, said Visit California.

In addition, if there is a downturn in the economy, “We’re going to have to try harder to maintain our spot at the top,” said Gallagher. “We have no intention of ceding that to anyone else.”

“We are committed to doing everything we can to support the lodging and hospitality industries,” she said. “At the end of the day, we need to convert all of this to sales and revenue.”

That data showed that in 2018, the Napa Valley welcomed 3.85 million visitors who spent $2.23 billion, said a new report from Visit Napa Valley.

To compare, the 2016 report said visitors spent $1.9 billion in Napa Valley. The $2.23 billion spent in 2018 represents $85.1 million in tax benefit to residents, said the report. Taxes generated by the visitor industry include revenues from the transient occupancy tax (TOT), sales taxes and property and transfer taxes paid on lodging facilities.

The tourism industry remains the second-largest employer in Napa County (after the wine industry), supporting the livelihood of an estimated 15,872 people, with a combined payroll of $492 million, the report stated.

“The tourism industry continues to provide a significant positive impact to Napa Valley’s economy, while also supporting local initiatives essential to the well-being of our community,” Gallagher said in May.

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21 Sep

Bremer Family Winery seeks county approval for structures built too close to a creek on its property off Deer Park Road east of St. Helena. Photo courtesy of Napa County.

A Napa Valley winery’s efforts to run a compliant facility in the eyes of Napa County have been delayed for at least another month.

The Napa County Planning Commission on Wednesday voted 3-2 to postpone until Oct. 16 a decision on the fate of a number of structures built too close to a creek that runs through the Bremer Family Winery property off Deer Park Road east of St. Helena. The winery proposed to mitigate the issue by planting trees on another stretch of the creek.

Owners John and Laura Bremer in February settled a lawsuit against Napa County over a series of alleged violations. The Bremers, who purchased the established winery in 2002, agreed to pay Napa County $271,464 for legal costs and other fees. The Bremers also agreed to limit the number of visitors to the winery under their 1979 use permit and seek building permits for unpermitted structures.

On Wednesday, representatives for the Bremers sought an exemption to county conservation rules for a number of structures, including three pedestrian bridges and retention walls illegally constructed within the 45- to 65-foot stream setback. The application was forwarded as part of the settlement agreement.

Other structures located too close to the creek include a winery pad, an agricultural storage building, a carport, landscaping and a paved roadway, according to a staff report. Napa County apparently allowed two additions to a farmhouse and the construction of a bathroom within the stream setback.

Two consultants for the winery, Brian Mayerle, senior biologist at FirstCarbon Solutions in Rocklin, and Phill Blake, agricultural and natural resources advisor for RSA+ in Napa, said the structures built within the stream corridor on the winery property had no effect on the creek. Removing them would create instability, Blake said.

Residents asked the Planning Commission to request for a continuance, citing the need for more information and the winery’s history. They also wanted the extra time to obtain written transcripts of court proceedings that resulted in the February settlement.

The commissioners who voted to continue the hearing until Oct. 16 said they wanted more information to make a better decision.

Commissioner Jeri Hansen asked staff to list which of the violations the Planning Commission needs to address to bring clarity for the record and the community.

Some of the structures constructed within the creek setbacks were put in place before the county conservation rules took effect in 1991 are off the table, for instance. Other items have building permits.

“I’m in no way interested in flying in the face of the settlement agreement or making that more difficult,” Hansen said. “What I’m trying to do or hoping to do is make sure that we’re aligning and dovetailing into that settlement agreement in the most appropriate places possible and helping get to that settlement.”

Also voting to continue the matter were Planning Commission Chairwoman Joelle Gallagher and Planning Commission Anne Cottrell.

Two commissioners, Andrew Mazotti and Dave Whitmer, voted against the motion. “To remove the issues that have impacted the stream setback areas would create more environmental harm than leaving them in place,” Whitmer said. “There isn’t any other alternative that I can see.”

Attorney David Gilbreth, who represented the Bremers before the Planning Commission, said he and his team will work with the staff and the Planning Commission. However, he predicted before the vote the commission would have the same information it had Wednesday.

Charlene Gallina, supervising planner, said staff will obtain a status update on all the building permits issued under the settlement from code enforcement personnel.

Napa County officials had issued their first notice of violation over against the winery in August 2005.

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08 Sep

Pale as a glass of water with a squeeze of lemon, this Napa sauvignon blanc is sunny and bright, a departure from the usual styles of this wine — either overly tropical or heavily grassy and full of ammonia character. What Rutherford Ranch offers instead is a crisp, lemony wine that’s lightly herbal, exhibiting solid mineral notes, and finishes as crisp and clean as a breath of floral-scented mountain air. At 12 bucks a bottle (vs. an MSRP of $23), it’s a highly approachable steal.

A- / $12 /

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2018 Rutherford Ranch Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley


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07 Sep

These would not be mistaken for contemporary wines. They are perhaps a tad rustic, and the beloved acidity may one day be the last thing remaining, like the Cheshire cat’s grin. But they are delicious.

Heitz’s winemaking methods today are largely the same, and the wines are just as lively. The cabernet is fermented in steel tanks. When it is almost finished with the fermentation, it is pressed off into large upright tanks made of American oak and redwood, manufactured in the early 1960s and purchased by Heitz in the ’80s.

The wines rest in the tanks for about a year before they are moved to small barrels of French oak, where the Napa Valley blend ages for two years and the single-vineyards for three. In all, the Napa is aged for four years before it’s released — 2014 is the most recent vintage available — and the single-vineyards for five years. It’s another quirk. Many 2016 Napa cabernets are already in the market, and some 2017s as well.

Ms. Sherwood, the winemaker, said that while the overall process remained the same, there have been changes since she arrived in 2012, “always to improve the wine.”

Many of the modifications made by the new ownership, Mr. McCoy said, have come in the vineyard in an effort to find the properly balanced yield, and fruit that needs as little manipulation as possible beyond the addition of tartaric acid.

In the winery, he said, the changes have been small tweaks, aimed at improving the texture of the wine and working in a less formulaic way, depending on the needs of a particular wine.

For example, the Heitz chardonnay, which we did not taste, had historically been bottled young. Ms. Sherwood determined the wine would be better with more aging before it was released, but that meant the Heitz chardonnay would be out of the market for a year. The new owner Mr. Lawrence, Mr. McCoy said, was fine with that.

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31 Aug

The research block at Larkmead Vineyards

Bob McClenahan

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28 Aug

The Napa County Farm Bureau plans to fight an initiative to allow the cultivation of commercial cannabis in unincorporated areas, citing a potential threat to the wine industry.

The Farm Bureau on Friday announced it will launch a political campaign and raise money to defeat the initiative known as Measure J slated to be on the March 3, 2020, ballot.

Ryan Klobas, chief executive officer of the Napa County Farm Bureau, on Friday said the Farm Bureau plans to educate voters about the initiative which would re-define agriculture in Napa County to include cannabis.

The initiative is “fraught with a lot of unintended consequences,” Klobas said.

Political consultant Robert “Rob” Muelrath will run the campaign.

Michele Benvenuto, executive director of Winegrowers of Napa County, also voiced opposition. Her organization’s members have voted to oppose the initiative, she said.

Measure J would allow the cultivation of up to 1 acre of cannabis on a parcel of at least 10 acres in unincorporated areas zoned agricultural preserve and agricultural watershed. It would impose setbacks on school and residences and prohibit cultivation on winery properties. It would also impose a tax on commercial cannabis of $1 per square foot on plants grown outdoor to $2 per square foot on cannabis grown using artificial lighting.

The Board of Supervisors on Aug. 20 faced two choices after reviewing a study of the initiative: adopt an ordinance with the provisions included in the initiative or place the measure on the March 3, 2020, ballot. The supervisors unanimously chose the latter.

Concerns raised on Aug. 20 included odor from cannabis grows, insufficient setbacks, potential litigation if vineyard pesticides drift into cannabis operations, and the specter that vineyards could be pulled to plant cannabis, a more valuable crop.

The cultivation of cannabis could generate $760,000 to $1.52 in tax revenues annually, according to the report presented to the Board of Supervisors. However, these revenues could be offset by the cost of law enforcement and code enforcement. Cannabis could be cultivated commercially under Measure J on about 660 parcels in Napa County totaling nearly about 71,720 acres, according to the report.

The “single biggest impact” of the initiative is the “loss of local control,” said Mark Lovelace, a consultant with HdL Companies and former Humboldt County supervisor, during his presentation.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Ryan Gregory said he could not support an ordinance.

“Our only choice today, I think, is to put it on the ballot,” Gregory said.

Klobas and other Farm Bureau members spoke against the initiative before the Napa County Board of Supervisors on Aug. 20. Peter Nissen, a past Farm Bureau president, said a Santa Barbara vintner threatened with a lawsuit by a cannabis grower over a spraying issue.

Eric Sklar, co-founder and a former owner of Alpha Omega Winery, has spearheaded the initiative to allow commercial cannabis cultivation in Napa County. He welcomed Aug. 20 discussion on cannabis even though the Board of Supervisors were not going to approve a commercial cannabis ordinance that day.

“This is a very happy day for me,” Sklar told the supervisors. “The reason I’m happy is because we’re having a dialogue after 2 ½ or more years about the substance of it,” he said. “It is a good day for the county.”

Sklar said photographs that showed 100-foot long hoop houses should not have been included in the report submitted to the Board of Supervisors, calling them misleading. Hoop houses would only be used for a short period of time when the plants germinate. Sklar also said there are no odors from cannabis 10 months a year. He objected to other conclusions in the report including the maximum estimated tax revenues which he said should be $2.87 million instead of $1.52 million.

The group has until Dec. 5 to withdraw its initiative, Sklar said at a previous meeting after a sufficient number of signatures had been collected to place the initiative on the March 2020 ballot.

On Aug. 20, Sklar and other Representatives of the Napa Valley Cannabis Association told the supervisors they still want to work with the board of supervisors on a cannabis ordinance.

“I think we can coexist. We just need to work together,” Napa Valley Cannabis Association member Grant Babbitt told the board.

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21 Aug

The Napa County Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday that will let voters decide in March of next year whether commercial cannabis cultivation and sale will be allowed in the county.

The board was faced with the decision to place commercial cannabis cultivation on the ballot or adopt the provisions of Measure J, pushed by local cannabis business boosters. The supervisors voted against adopting Measure J, or the Napa County Cannabis Regulation Initiative, which sets forth limits on sizes of “grow” operations, proximity to vineyards and other businesses, and other regulations.

The Napa Valley Cannabis Association, which has pushed the measure, collected enough signatures in earlier this year to place the issue on the Napa County ballot.

State election law limits the actions county officials can take after an initiative is certified to have enough signatures to qualify for a ballot: craft the initiative into a county ordinance as is, put it on the ballot or call for a report on impacts of the initiative.

Outside consultants presented the results of the report to the board Tuesday.

In presenting the report, Barbara Kautz of the law firm Goldfarb & Lipman LLP noted that conflicts between wineries and cannabis grows could arise, particularly because of pesticide drift and odor concerns.

“Conflict between vineyards and cannabis may occur,” Kautz said, noting cannabis cannot have any traces of commercially available pesticides or insecticides, some of which are used in vineyards and could waft into cannabis grows.

Mark Lovelace from auditing specialist HDL Companies echoed that “cannabis could create vectors for introducing diseases or pests that are otherwise controlled” by pesticides.

He also noted the report found the cannabis industry in Napa County would generate approximately $760,000 to $1.52 million per year in tax revenue from cultivation of the plant.

During the public comment period, representatives of the local agricultural industry opposed the initiative and urged the board to send it to the voters in March in the hopes it would fail.

That included Ryan Klobas, CEO of the Napa County Farm Bureau, making his opposition clear in painting cannabis as a threat to the local wine industry.

“You can have a cannabis grow an hour and a half away from a tasting room and have clients at the tasting room smell the marijuana as if it’s growing right next to them,” he said.

Eric Sklar, a founding member of the Napa Valley Cannabis Association, told the board, “This is a very happy day for me.”

He said it was not because the initiative would likely go on the ballot, but because the board was finally having a dialogue around how to bring commercial cannabis into Napa County after California voters legalized recreational cannabis via Proposition 64, which took effect in January 2018.

Before the vote, board Chairman Ryan Gregory voiced some of the concerns brought up by the report and that pervaded the discussion throughout the day.

“I get it that the hundred-acre grows are way different than half-acre and 1 acre grows,” to which the measure would limit cultivation, he said. “But you lose control of the odor problem immediately.”

Pesticide drift was also a concern, he said.

The report also found that cannabis cultivation is significantly more valuable per acre than wine grows.

“I’m concerned about the value of this crop competing unfairly with vineyards,” Gregory said.

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20 Aug

With the costs related to making Napa County wine rising and the marketplace for selling wine getting more competitive, local producers are reaching deeper into their marketing toolboxes.

“There are some caution lights out there now that we want to talk about,” said Richard Mendelson, a longtime wine industry attorney with Dickenson Peatman & Fogarty in Napa and moderator of the State of the Local Wine Industry panel at the Impact Napa conference Aug. 20. Areas of concern include where the wine business is in the business cycle, how trade policies outside California are impacting local vintners, and what rising costs of labor and grapes are doing to the bottom line.

The crowded marketplace for beverage alcohol is set to become even more of a fight for market share between wine, beer and spirits brands generally, according to Jon Moramarco, managing partner of BW 166, a North Bay-based analytics firm. Just last year, the U.S. Tax & Trade Bureau approved roughly 125,000 new wine labels, many of them for selections not previously on the market, he noted. At any given time, he estimates that about 200,000 wine labels are in the marketplace.

“It’s going to be a more competitive environment, so get ready for it and go out and figure out how you’re going to win,” Moramarco said.

Successful brand producers will be those who accurately identify the target audience for a given product then actively pursue the greatest share of that market, he said.

“People who think that they’re just going to make a bottle of wine and put it up for sale, and somebody will come and buy it, probably you’re going to be disappointed,” Moramarco said.

The record 184,573 tons of Napa County wine grapes crushed last year could translate into about 11 million cases of wine produced from that vintage at a retail value north of $7 billion, he estimated. Out of a projected 242.5 million in the U.S. of legal drinking age, over 36 million would be considered “core” wine consumers — drinking at least several glasses a month.

And core wine consumers of Napa County wines are estimated to be those who buy the 9.3 million cases produced over the most recent five-year average, or 2.3% of the 405.6 million cases shipped in the U.S., according to BW 166. If core Napa consumers buy at least a bottle a month, that works out to a market of less than 5% of legal adults.

Though many luxury-tier wines (over $20 a bottle) are sold via restaurants, hotels, clubs and tasting rooms, a growing fraction are entering grocery aisles. For Napa County cabernet sauvignon wines, a hot luxury-tier seller, around 15% are sold in food stores, Moramarco said. But one challenge has been that though Napa cab prices in grocery stores as been rapidly climbing, they’re not keeping pace with the cost of grapes, he said.

“Napa has done a wonderful job of building the luxury image for Napa and building a lot of luxury brands, but this is one risk that they have,” Moramarco said. “There is still a lot of wine out there sold well below what would be a reasonable expectation, given the cost of grapes.”

He compared Nielsen volume sales data for the top 30 Napa cab labels in food stores, accounting for 95% of volume for such wines in that price category, over the past decade. The average retail price ($31.34 a bottle) is half of what would be expected based on the rule of thumb for Napa County grape prices, down from 59% in 2008, when the average bottle price was $23.38.

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19 Aug

This article was first published in the January 2019 Wine Business Monthly.

Larry Brooks has spent close to four decades making fine wine in California. His career began at Acacia in 1979. From his role as winemaker and general manager he went on to become the vice president and COO of Chalone Wine Estates, Acacia’s parent company. He founded L.M. Brooks Consulting in 2000 after leaving executive winemaking and continues to offer a wide range of services. He has recently been lecturer in advanced sensory analysis of wine at both Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and at Fresno State. He is currently taking the lead role as consulting winemaker at Paraiso Winery.

The optimum growing temperature for luxury priced Cabernet Sauvignon sits at 17.5±1.5° C (63.5º±2.7° F), but climatologists project that most current California wine-growing regions will exceed 19° C, based on measurements taken from 1981 to 2010. On June 7, 2018 a symposium in Sonoma called, “Bordeaux in America: The Climate Disruption,” sponsored by Enologix, featured climate experts discussing their predictions with vintners. While the symposium was focused on the effects of climate change on luxury Cabernet in Napa and Sonoma, the underlying science and temperature trends contain dire news for wine-growing at large.

The most startling and sobering fact was that within 30 years (the normal life span of a vineyard planted today), many current Napa vineyard locations will be too warm for some Bordeaux varieties to scale luxury-priced wines. Climate change is no longer something abstract affecting the future. Anyone planting or replanting a vineyard today should be taking climate warming trends and optimum grape-growing temperatures into account.

Four academics and Doug McKesson, general manager at Enologix, presented different facets of the problem. They are Dan Cayan, research meteorologist, Scripps Institute; Greg Jones, professor and climatologist, Linfield College; Daniel Sumner, director, UCD Agricultural Issues Center; and Elizabeth Wolkovich, University of British Columbia and Harvard University.

For concision’s sake I have condensed the material from the day-long symposium into three parts. The first section addresses what the climate is doing; the second, the effect this warming is having on the vines and wines; and the last, strategies to mitigate the effects.

Part 1: Climate Warming

All speakers agreed that the planet is warming and that the increased greenhouse gases, primarily CO2, that cause the warming are proven to be from human activity.

Rates of temperature increases began accelerating about 1980. Observation of the warming over the four decades since has allowed climatologists to project the temperature trends through the 21st century. All climatologists predict additional increases of 4° F to 5° F by the mid-21st century. Disturbingly, however, 15 of the last 20 growing seasons in California have already been 3° F to 5° F warmer than the 100-year average 1895-2017.3 Projected temperatures will rise 6° F (3.3° C) by 2060 (FIGURE 1).

Figure 1

Climatologists use two CO2 level scenarios for their projections—a moderate increase and a high increase. Until mid-century, both moderate CO2 and high CO2 increases yielded the same projected temperatures for California. After mid-century, if high CO2 accumulation proves true, temperatures will sharply increase.2

In California coastal vineyards the nighttime minimums have increased more than the daytime maximums due to warming of the eastern Pacific Ocean. There has also been more variation in daytime than nighttime temperatures. By mid-century the hottest days will be 4° F to 5° F hotter with more days above 95° F. The frequency, duration and intensity of heat events will increase. Rainfall will become more variable with an increased frequency of drought years. This increase in drought years will further drive up demand for water resources, which will already be under pressure from rising average heat. Intense winter storms will become more intense.2

Climate warming has effects on growth, productivity, and quality. Warmer dormant periods make risk of freeze damage greater. Earlier budbreak and growth expose the vines to greater risk of frost. Earlier flowering can lead to greater chances of rainfall damage. Veraison will be earlier when heat stresses are greater. At harvest lower ranges of diurnal temperatures will lead to sugar ripeness before tannin and color ripeness. All phenological stages5 shift earlier in response to warming, and the phases themselves are condensed.3 Inevitably, there will be flavor changes in the wine as the vines respond.

Climate is one of the key variables that contribute to terroir. As the climate changes, so too will terroir. Plant phenology is a good lens to observe these changes. Phenological records of winegrapes have been kept in France since the 1300s. These records clearly show that as the planet has warmed in the past 40 years, there has been a trend towards earlier harvests—a shortening of the phenological phases that lead to ripeness (FIGURE 2). While there was variability in harvest dates of individual vintages throughout the record, there has been a 0-day shortening of the growing season on average since 1980.4

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Figure 2

Grapevines have a wide adaptability to temperature between varieties. You have cold climate varietals, such as Pinot Noir, and varietals, like Grenache, which will thrive under much warmer conditions. Within each varietal, however, you have a narrow range of temperatures where quality wine is possible. This is why Grenache is not found in Burgundy, and Pinot Noir is not planted in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Average Growing Season Temperature (GST) is becoming the standard metric for discussion of climate effects on wine-growing. There are four broad categories of heat ranges that are suitable for quality wine—Cool, 55.4° F to 59° F (13° C to 15° C); Intermediate, 59° F to 62.6° F (15° C to 17° C); Warm, 62.6° F to 66.2° F (17° C to 19° C) and Hot, above 66.2° F. Varieties vary in the range of temperatures that are successful for them. Pinot Noir has one of the narrowest ranges at roughly 3.5° F (2° C) while others like Cabernet Sauvignon are somewhat wider at 5.5° F (3° C) (FIGURE 3).

Here is the crux of the problem for any region that has established its reputation based on the interaction of its terroir with a specific variety. Take Cabernet and Napa Valley, as an example. Cabernet has a range of 60.8° F to 66.2° F (16° C to 19° C) in which it will produce quality wine. In St. Helena, the average GST for 1971-2000 was 66° F (18.9° C)—very near the high-end of the range for Cabernet. Bordeaux, in contrast, had an average GST of 61.7° F (16.5° C) for 1950-2000, which is near the low end of the optimum range.1,3 Warming has occurred in both areas since 2000, and that has likely benefited Bordeaux, but not Napa.

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Figure 3 (source, Greg Jones) 

While there is a range of increases predicted for upcoming decades—even the most conservative predict increases that will raise Napa GST out of the warm range and into the hot range by the mid-21st century—this hot range is not compatible with luxury-priced Cabernet. The direst forecasts based on higher accumulation of CO2 would make Napa Valley more compatible with table grapes than winegrapes by century’s end.

Other appellations besides Napa Valley are at equal risk. Continental climates, in particular, such as central France and Germany, will see significant warming. Terroirs that have grown the same varieties for many centuries will no longer find them suitable.

Part 3: Mitigation

One reaction to a warming climate will be a general movement of new wine-growing in higher latitudes. It should be kept in mind that because of their patterns of day length, Northern latitudes also cause compression of phenological phases and will make wines dissimilar to those grown in middle latitudes. Within appellations, movement towards higher elevations will help—obviously not an option in all areas.

In the case of coastal locations, moving closer to the ocean could help. Patterns of fog and coastal moisture will need to be considered before making such a decision. While relocation may sound drastic to a current vineyard or winery, this will inevitably happen. As Dr. Wolkovich so vividly put it, “Climate change is a wave you must ride or be swept away by.”

For those who do not wish to relocate or cannot, there are alternative solutions. Changing varieties or proportions of blends is less expensive than changing location. As previously noted, there is a wide range of heat tolerance between grape varieties. In the case of a Bordeaux style blend, this may involve lowering or eliminating the less heat-tolerant Merlot, and increasing portions of Malbec and Petite Verdot. Rhône blends can shift to the more heat-tolerant Grenache from Syrah-based blends. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay usually made as single varieties do not offer the same flexibility.

Unfortunately, most of the “International” varieties, which are currently widely planted around the globe, originated in France and are in the range of cold- to warm-tolerant. They will not be a big part of the longer term solutions. Varieties found in southern Italy, Greece and Spain are the likeliest candidates for planting in warming terroirs. These varieties have both longer phenological cycles and the ability to retain acidity and color in hot conditions. They, of course, pose a marketing challenge in a sales world dominated by a dozen or so largely French varieties.4

There will be existing growing areas that become so hot that they will be outside of the range of winegrowing entirely—not even the broad range of Vitus vinifera heat adaptability will offset climate change in every area. Some appellations will be abandoned.

Genetic adaptations, through traditional plant breeding and the use of GMOs to increase heat and drought tolerance, are an avenue that is worth pursuing in both scion and rootstock development3. Parts of society and the market have issues with genetic solutions, but hopefully this will change.

Myriad shorter term and temporary solutions exist and will be applied. Landscape potential, such as aspect to the sun and row orientation to protect fruit zones from direct solar, help. Training, trellising and application of shading materials are also effective. Choice of rootstock for drought tolerance and water management is important. The use of micro sprinklers and other forms of irrigation for short-term temperature control during “heat storms” are already in routine use for some fruit crops and should be considered.

These short-term solutions will be most effective in areas that are currently at the cool end of the range for the variety grown. Pinot Noir in parts of Oregon and the coolest California locations fall into this category. If you are already at the warmer edge of climate for your variety, moving or replanting makes more sense. Pinot Noir in parts of the Russian River fall into this category. WBM


1 According to Doug McKesson, general manager, Enologix

2 According to Dan Cayan, research meteorologist, Scripps Institute

3 According to Greg Jones, professor and climatologist, Linfield College

4 According to Elizabeth Wolkovich, University of British Columbia and Harvard University

5 Phenology is the study of the annual timing of stages of development and growth in plants. It is an indicator of how they are responding to their enviro

Sidebar: New Program to Support Climate-Smart Agriculture

A new $1.1 million program has been designed to spur climate-smart agricultural practices in 10 California counties. The program is a partnership between the California Department of Food and Agriculture and University of California’s Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Under the agreement, 10 new UC Cooperative Extension community education specialists will be hired for a year to guide farmers and ranchers apply for cost-sharing grants to improve irrigation systems, soil health and set up alternative manure management programs.

The University of California employees will be assigned to 10 counties: Mendocino, Glenn, Yolo, San Joaquin, Merced, Kern, Imperial, San Diego, San Luis Obispo and Santa Cruz counties.

UC Cooperative Extension advisors will mentor the new educators and conduct research on sustainable farming and ranching practices.

Grape growers may primarily benefit from the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program and the Healthy Soils Program, said Doug Parker, director of the UC California Institute for Water Resources.

The community education specialists will also organize workshops on sustainable farming practices and advise farmers and ranchers on best management practices such as water and energy saving measures.

Glenda Humiston, vice president of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture signed a memorandum of understanding on Oct. 26.

“Agriculture is an important part of the climate solution,” Ross said in a written statement. “This funding enables CDFA and UC ANR to partner with farmers to scale-up climate smart agricultural practices.”

The program is funded through the California Strategic Growth Council. “Farmers and ranchers are key to carbon sequestration and a sustainable California,” said Ken Alex, chair of the Strategic Growth Council. “The Strategic Growth Council is pleased to fund this partnership for smart agriculture practices.”

For information on the UC ANR, check:

Information on the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program and the Healthy Soils Program are available at: For information on the Alternative Manure Management Program, check:

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