A decade ago I wrote an April Fools’ Day wine column about an optimistic winemaker in Sweden who had planted cabernet sauvignon, anticipating that climate change would put him ahead of the curve.
At the time, the idea was considered radical; Sweden was too cool to grow wine grapes. Not anymore.
In fact, a hybrid grape called Rondo now is growing in Sweden, England, and Germany, and going into red wines in all three regions. Part of the reason Rondo works in such previously wine-barren regions is that all three areas are seeing warmer average temperatures.
An article published earlier this month in the New Zealand Herald addressed how climate change Down Under will impact one of New Zealand’s most important wine regions — Central Otago.
Long known as a superb cool location for pinot noir and riesling, New Zealand’s south island area Central Otago has already begun seeing the effects of increasing temperatures — so much so that the area may soon be warm enough to warrant planting other grape varieties.
“Wine enthusiasts may well be able to buy Central Otago-grown syrah and merlot in the next few decades,” the Herald article said, quoting former Central Otago Winegrowers President James Dicey.
Temperature changes, including additional heat spells and higher peak temperatures, require changes in farming techniques such as better irrigation systems and new techniques to maintain vine character, Dicey said.
Glenn McGourty, UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor for Mendocino and Lake counties, just returned from a technical conference in Argentina where the topic was water — or a lack thereof as a result of drought, scant spring runoff and other difficult conditions for wine growers.
Part of the problem for many southern hemisphere wineries will be the shortage of water, he said.
“Specifically, their snowpack (in Argentina) was not as big as in past years, and many areas are very arid,” McGourty said. “Water is scarce.”
“We face this same situation in most areas of the Central Coast — they are in dire straits in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Monterey counties. You can see how dry everything is by looking at the fires down there right now.”
He said that following the October fires in Napa and Sonoma, “the North Coast got ample rainfall, but before all that we had some incredibly hot weeks, even in places where you wouldn’t expect it, like San Francisco.”
McGourty noted that during the recently concluded harvest, the four North Coast counties had several days in a row of 100-degree temperatures. Really, they were heat storms that lasted for a period of time, and that can change the composition of the fruit.
“(Heat) can create sunburn, it increases the pH and the sugar. And yes, winemakers can deal with some of these things in the winery, but it’s not their favorite way to go.”
He said the resulting wines may be satisfactory, but occasionally such conditions will produce characteristics that are atypical: “It’s contrary to our handcrafted image of wines made from exquisitely grown fruit. If you’re a pinot noir grower and all of a sudden the temperatures rise to 100 degrees for several days in a row, well, that’s not the kind of wine you want to make. It’s not what you signed up for.”
Napa Valley Wine Train’s packages
Quattro Vino Journeys ($332 to $392 per person.)
The Famiglia Tour. The six-hour trip from Napa to Rutherford features a four-course meal and tours of Silverado Vineyards, Whitehall Lane Winery and Grgich Hills Estate.
The Estate Tour. The six-hour trip from Napa to St. Helena features a four-course meal and tours of Domain Chandon, HALL Wines and Inglenook.
The Collective Tour. The six-hour trip from Napa to St. Helena features a four-course meal and tours of St. Supery Estate Vineyards, Beringer Winery and Raymond Vineyards.
The Legacy Tour. The six-hour trip from Napa to St. Helena, features a four-course meal and tours of Robert Mondavi Winery, Charles Krug Winery and V. Sattui Winery.
Castle Winery Tour. The one-and-a-half hour trip from Napa to Calistoga features a gourmet lunch and an exclusive tour and tasting at Castello di Amorosa. ($269 to $334 per person.)
Raymond Winery Tour. The one-and-a-half hour trip from Napa to St. Helena features a gourmet lunch and an exclusive tour and tasting at Raymond Vineyards. ($209 to $229 per person.)
Grgich Hills Winery Tour. The two-hour trip from Napa to Rutherford features a gourmet lunch and an intimate tour and tasting at Grgich Hills Estate. ($209 to $229per person.)
Ambassador Winery Tour. The one-and-a-half hour trip from Napa to St. Helena features a gourmet lunch and exclusive tours and tastings at Charles Krug Winery and Raymond Vineyards. ($269 to $334 per person.)
Hop Train. The two-hour tour of Napa Valley in the Open Air car every Monday features tastes of local craft beers and bites from Palisades Beer Co. (Begins at $75 per person.)
The Vista Dome. The three-hour tour of Napa Valley, offered at lunch and dinner in the two-story Vista Dome, an elevated dining car, features a gourmet meal with a glass of sparkling wine. ($214 to $244 per person.)
The Gourmet Express. The three-hour tour of Napa Valley, offered at lunch and dinner in the refurbished antique Pullman rail cars, features a gourmet meal and a glass of wine. ($139 to $169 per person.)
Murder Mystery. The three-hour tour of Napa Valley features dining on a gourmet meal with a glass of wine while figuring out who-done-it in the murder mystery dinner theatre. ($195 to $215 per person.)
Meet the Maker. The three-hour evening rail tour of Napa Valley features a four-course gourmet dinner with a selection of wine from the featured winery, tasting notes from the winemaker, and food pairings. (Begins at $272 per person.)
Blue Note Express Music & Dinner Train. The four-hour tour of Napa Valley, offered every Thursday night, features a glass of sparkling wine and appetizers onboard the new Open Air rail car with a Napa-style meal, a live performance from the “Wine Train Quartet” and a ticket to the 9:30 p.m. show at Blue Note Napa. (Begins at $213 per person.)
Santa Trains: The annual Santa Trains, from Napa to Yountville, feature an interactive adventure and offer its passengers holiday bites and beverages, along with games, sing-alongs, and a fun cast of holiday-inspired characters. (Prices not yet set.)