It has been a record dry year for California, and with that comes some major concerns for viticulturists. What does this drought mean for the 2014 vintage here in the Napa Valley?
For Meteor Vineyard Winemaker Dawnine Dyer, it means being prepared for smaller crops that will have been impacted by dehydration.
“Dehydration concentrates everything in the grape. With less water there is more sugar, more tannin, more acidity to the juice…generally this happens at the very end of ripening and can even be a positive thing (the dimpling we look for just before picking is a result of dehydration),” Dyer said.
Dyer said as for thinning the canopy, when there is not as much water in the soil as usual, you have to manage the plant so it is sized to the water you do have. Therefore, both pruning and thinning are done earlier than normal.
“All said, it’s not necessarily a terrible thing for winemaking. It’s something we can manage (and wines from the draught years of the 70’s are pretty impressive)…we just need to pay attention,” Dawnine said.
Meteor Vineyard Manager, Mike Wolf, measured the soils last week and found the whole soil profile to be very dry, as expected. He says that since the vines are currently very dormant, irrigating now would most likely be a waste of money.
“If we do not receive substantial rain before bud break, we will irrigate enough to fill the soil profile in the vines’ root zone,” Wolf said.
A major unknown is always how satisfactory the wells will perform this summer at the vineyard. If they don’t perform up to par then Mike and his crew will have to try to grow “thrifty” vines, with smaller canopies than usual to minimize water use.
Fruition Sciences, an East Bay information technology firm that provides winemakers and grapegrowers with decision-aiding tools designed to optimize vineyard management, was just at the Westin Verasa hotel in Napa to meet with local vintners and growers. While in town they spoke on efforts in winegrowing to “be smarter about using less water,” co-founder Thibaut Scholasch said.
They pointed out the many rewards of smarter use of irrigation, showing that it not only aids in vine health but also produces better wines. Winemakers in the valley are just hoping to see some of the late rains we might traditionally see in February or March to help with this years growing season.
If rainfalls don’t grace us within the next couple of months, this will dictate the careful monitoring of crop level in order to keep things in balance. In addition to that Mike and his team will need to take extra care to not develop nutrient deficiencies if this lack of rain or irrigation resources create a smaller active root system.
“We have to do what we can to move the season forward-do cultural operations early to promote a shorter growing season (where we will need less water)…or consider joining some organized religion,” Wolf said with a little humor.