Napa Valley Must Get Serious About Climate Change

Dan Petroski, proprietor of Massican Winery and winemaker for Larkmead Vineyards, two wineries looking for solutions to climate change effects on grapes.

The cabernet grape is a staple of Napa Valley winemaking, but like many other California crops, cabernet is coming under increased threat from climate change. The SF Chronicle reported that  “as Napa’s wine industry continues to confront rising temperatures, increasingly frequent wildfires, intermittent drought and erratic weather, a small but growing contingent of vintners is becoming more vocal about the need to address climate change head-on. Frustrated by the lack of industry-wide action, some are taking matters into their own hands by planting experimental vineyards — and, in some cases, acknowledging that the future of Napa Valley may not lie solely with Cabernet.”

What Climate Change Means for Napa: Cultivating grapes requires precise environments and even reliable microclimates to give wines their unique properties. As a region prone to drought and warming temperatures Napa and neighboring regions like Sonoma face serious climate risks, as the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Climate Hot Map explained,

  • The total area within the continental United States suitable for premium wine growing could be reduced as much as 81 percent by the end of this century under a high-emissions scenario, primarily due to an increase in extremely hot summer days (>95° F or 35° C).
  • According to projections, premium wine grapes could only be grown in a thin strip of land along the coast of California, while the climate becomes more favorable in coastal Oregon and Washington.
  • Warm nights have boosted the growth of high-quality wine grapes in California, but further warming is not likely to be as beneficial.

Lacking Action: Dr. Kaan Kurtural, UC Davis professor of viticulture and enology explained that climate change isn’t coming for Napa, instead it’s already here. According to the Winkler Index, a UC Davis-developed scale that maps which types of grape varieties can grow within specific temperature bands, Napa has already moved into another climate category which increasingly threatens cabernet grapes. Unfortunately, Napa County still lacks a climate action plan as local lawmakers haven’t been able to finalize a plan for years. A growing voice of Napa vintners say it’s time for Napa to take climate change seriously.

Why This Matters: What’s happening in Napa is a reflection of how climate change is damaging other wine-growing regions around the world and pushing them further north. California makes 81% of all U.S. wine and is the world’s 4th leading wine producer, so mitigating and adapting to climate change through land use and experimentation with different grape varietals is necessary to keep the multi-billion dollar industry thriving.

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