Temperatures over the Labor Day weekend reached an unseasonable 110 degrees in parts of Northern California. Nice for a final beach day, you might say, but winemakers weren’t too thrilled because the oppressive heat withered their grapes into raisins still clinging hopelessly to the vine. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the area effectively got three straight days of triple-digit heat. The awful daytime temperatures didn’t cool off enough at night, meaning around-the-clock dehydration for the fruits — and now a year that looked like “a promising and average-yielding vintage” is one where Napa vineyard owners watched as much as half their crop literally shrivel up.
“I’ve been making wine for 34 years, and I don’t think Napa’s ever seen this excessive heat at this stage of ripeness,” winemaker Pam Starr, of Crocker & Starr Wines, tells the Chronicle. They were able to salvage some grapes with water, but many vintners believe doing that so close to harvest time (which, for Napa reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, is in the next few weeks) will affect the taste, so really in their minds it’s lose-lose, irrigation or dehydration. Pinot Noir grapes are basically ready for harvest now, so the paper says there was a mad rush across Napa last week to get them off the vines once visible “raisining” began. Another winemaker tells the paper that the dehydration is unlike anything she’s ever seen. Her vineyard recorded 104-degree temperatures, a first-ever as far as she knows during harvest. Their vines have surely looked better:
Overripe grapes might end up in cheaper wine blends, or if they’re dried beyond hope, they’ll go to a different target market altogether: “The best we can hope for is that they become dry raisins,” Starr says, which can at least “go into cereal boxes.”