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Napa Valley winemakers see approaching rain as good news / bad news

Napa Valley winemakers see approaching rain as good news/bad news
Napa Valley winemakers see approaching rain as good news/bad news 02:46

ST HELENA (KPIX) -- A few days ago, it was 117 degrees in the Napa Valley. Now, growers here are preparing for an inch of rain. That's the way it's gone this year in one of the most famous wine regions in the world where winemakers are having to roll with the punches.

There was no calm before the storm at V. Satui winery in St. Helena on Saturday. The place was packed with visitors in the outdoor picnic areas.  Parking attendant Manny Barbarino was sure they were rushing to get some wine-tasting in before Sunday's rainstorm.

For V. Satui president Tom Davies, the storm meant a chance for his workers to get a few days of rest.  They'd been picking grapes nonstop for weeks.

"It was almost like an avalanche of fruit ripening all at one time," he said.

About 75 percent of his crop was in and all his tanks were full because the warm weather made almost all varieties of grapes ripen at once.  There simply wasn't room to put in any more.  That's where he thought the rainstorm could help.

"That just gives us a chance to get caught up, get some things fermented if we need to, get some stuff in the barrels," Davies said.  "Maybe give a half day off to some of the cellar crew.  They've been working literally around the clock."

That was the good news.  The storm's not-so-good news was for the fruit still on the vine.

"Getting a little bit of a drink here late in the season would be good for the vines. It's not ideal for the grapes because the grapes will then draw up some of that water and that's not what we want to have happen right now," Davies said.

Pulling in water now will only dilute the sugar levels that growers have worked so hard to achieve. Then there's the threat of mold if it's not warm enough after the storm to quickly dry the berries.  So, Davies said, warm temperatures and a soft northerly wind would be nice. 

He admits that, like all farmers, he's a bit of a whiner when it comes to the weather but he said there's a good reason for that. Napa Valley is the most expensive agricultural land in America and hundreds of millions of dollars can be at stake when the weather takes an unusual turn.

"We're just looking for that perfect weather, perfect ripening and when anything seems to push just a little bit over the edge, we tend to lose a little bit of sleep.  But this has been a very unusual year."

Unusual?  Sure.  But the growers in Napa Valley have pretty much given up on the idea of "usual."  These days, they're just scrambling to try to react to the next curveball that Mother Nature serves up.

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