Climate change brings short-term benefits, long-term fears to California wine country

California's warmest winter on record is now leading to an incredibly early wine season. While the warmer weather could provide short-term benefits to the state's wine industry, the gradual spike in temperatures could also have a detrimental impact on winemaking throughout the famed Napa Valley region.

"This is the earliest I've ever seen the season come," said PJ Alviso, Director of Viticulture at Napa's Paraduxx Winery.

Alviso gave CBS News Correspondent Bigad Shaban a tour of his vineyard to show him his wine grapes that began budding four weeks ahead of schedule. Alviso said the grapes will now have extra time to ripen on the vine before they have to be plucked in November to avoid the fall's cold and wet weather.

Shaban asked, "So this could actually help you improve the taste of wine?"

"I think we may have the opportunity to do that this year," Alviso replied. "The really big, jammy cabernets and zinfandels that are really ripe, those wines for sure will benefit.... I think we'll be able to make some killer wines."

Since the 1960s, temperatures in much of the United States have increased 1 to 2 degrees. Meteorologist Eric Boldt says that has resulted in longer warmer seasons, and shorter, less intense colder seasons, which is also affecting crops and wine production as far away as Vermont.

"Most likely, we're going to continue to have more numerous years of being above normal on the temperature range," Boldt said. "And that will continue our averages to be steadily higher."

The gradual rise in temperature could eventually threaten Napa's ability to make wine.

"Does that scare you?" Shaban asked Alviso.

"Yeah, super scary," Alviso replied. "We can't grow wine without grapes. We can't grow grapes without whatever mother nature gives us. There's a specific combination of soil and temperature...if you change that paradigm, even a little bit, you affect their ability to make the same wines that the regions are known for."

According to the government's Global Change Research Program, the increase in temperatures has also made droughts more severe and widespread than they otherwise would have been. The government also estimates over the next 40 years, temperatures in the Napa Valley area will rise about 4 degrees. Some scientists believe that means the amount of land in Napa County suitable for growing those world-renowned grapes could be cut in half. Other scientists, however, say there are several variables that could lessen the impact of climate change on Napa's wine industry, including advances in technology that would allow wine makers to adapt to the warmer temperatures.

"There's a specific combination of soil and temperature there that let [wine makers] make great wines," Alviso said.

"If you change that paradigm, even a little bit, you affect their ability to make the same wines that the regions are known for."

  • Bigad Shaban

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