Napa harvest devastated by heatwave

Napa harvest devastated by heatwave

A heatwave in California last weekend has shrivelled the 2017 harvest leading to uncertainty over both its quality and quantity of the vintage. 

“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,” Pam Starr, co-owner of Crocker & Starr Wines in St. Helena, told the San Francisco Chronicle. The area experienced temperatures exceeding 43C for three days in a row. “I thought we were going to make it through without a lot of repercussions, but that’s not the case.”

Starr estimates some of her blocks have lost as much as 50% of their crop due to raisining. Particularly hard hit were Cabernet Sauvignon grapes which are left on the vine in Napa until at least mid-September to reach full ripeness.

“The extensiveness of the dehydration was something I’ve never seen before,” added Jasmine Hirsch, of Hirsch Vineyards in Cazadero. “It’s exceeded 104 degrees here before, but never during harvest.”

Hirsch winemaker Anthony Filiberti has estimated yields are down about 10% due to raisining, and another 10% due to water evaporation.

Hottest day on record

It's been a steamy month for San Francisco and its surrounds. The city recorded its hottest day on record on September 1, with the temperature climbing to 41C.

With the hot weather predicted to be intense and extended, winemakers raced to harvest their grapes. But their efforts were hampered by a labour shortage caused by an ongoing crackdown on illegal immigrants.

"The big immigration concerns mean that even though the industry here employs only legal workers, the giant vacuum created by the crackdown has meant that many people that might have come for the harvest are now ending up filling slots in other industries and areas," Rod Berglund, owner and winemaker of Joseph Swan Vineyards in Sonoma County, told Wine-Searcher.

Some high-end Napa wineries were paying $US45 an hour for pickers in a frantic bid to save their grapes.

French harvest devastated by frosts

The crisis follows the French government confirming this year's wine harvest will be the smallest since 1945. 

Jérôme Despey, head of a governmental wine advisory board, told a news conference: "At harvests everywhere, in places where we thought there would be a little less, there’s a lot less.”

The French Ministry of Agriculture said output was expected to total 37.2m hectolitres – 18% less than 2016 and 17% below the average over the past five years.

The 2016 harvest was one of the smallest in 30 years.

Despey said he expected a 40% drop in Bordeaux, while vineyards in north-eastern Alsace, which produces mainly white wines, were also hit hard.

The drop in production was blamed on spring cold snaps. Vineyards report temperatures plunging to below -7C in some regions hurting shoots that were already well-developed because of earlier mild weather.

France’s total wine output fell 10% last year due to adverse weather conditions. Frost, heavy rain, hailstones "as big as ping pong balls", mildew and drought near the Mediterranean lead to the 2016 harvest being the worst in 30 years.

Production was down one third in Champagne, with wine regions like Burgundy and the Loire valley almost as badly hit.

However, for some winemakers in Chablis and Chiroubles, the loss was almost total.

"This isn't so much a harvest, as a hunt for grapes," Burgundy winemaker Jean-Jacques Robert told AFP.

The poor season came after a below average harvest in 2015 due to hot weather.



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