Heatwave could damage wine production for years to come

28 October 2021

A heatwave in parts of Western America has slowed the growth of Californian grapes and may damage its wine business in the long term

Reports are emerging that extreme temperatures experienced in the key harvest month of September have already started to show a strong negative impact on production. 

The region is responsible for 85% of all US wine output, and 60% of all US wine sales.

If it were a country, it would be the world’s fourth-largest wine producer. 

Data from The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has revealed that California and several other Western states experienced the hottest summer on record, exceeding the 1936 Dust Bowl Summer by less than 0.01 of a degree.  

The weather saw 60% of the west facing “extreme drought” conditions, with 98.3% of states there facing “abnormally dry conditions”. 

As a result, production in some vineyards is now reported to be down by between 20%-60%. 

But far more concerning is the effect of the weather on grape vines, many of which have died and have had to be replaced.

However, newly planted vines will need several years of tending before they can bear fruit.  

Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle, Jasmine Hirsch, of Hirsch Vineyards in Cazadero said: “The extensiveness of the dehydration is something I’ve never seen before, with temperatures exceeding 104 degrees.”  

Pam Starr, co-owner of Crocker & Starr Wines in St Helena added: “In some parts of my vineyard we have lost 50% of our crop.” 

This year’s drought brings further bad news for growers, which were already reeling from the wildfires of 2020 – where some producers lost 40%-85% of their grape crops due to smoke damage. 

Overall volumes in the North Coast have dropped by approximately 30%, including a 43% reduction in Napa Cabernet and a 39% drop in Sonoma Pinot Noir.

Monterey crushed nearly 22% fewer tonnes of grapes in 2020 compared with the previous vintage, including a 37% drop in Pinot Noir. 

News that US production is being impacted follows warnings by the (WSTA) that labour shortages and increased shipping costs could threaten supplies of New Zealand wines this Christmas.

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