Heat Wave Has Vineyardists, Vintners in a Cold Sweat

by Angela Musallam

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — Northern California wine grape growers like Joe Salman have been feeling the heat and so have their vines.

At his Grand Island vineyard in the Sacramento Delta, Salman says recent scorching temperatures can damage grapes and spoil wine in the barrel. So he’s trying to stay one stead ahead of the heat.

Grapes Becoming Raisins

Grape grower Joe Salman shows desiccated grapes from his vines near Sacramento. (CBS)

“I can’t let something like this end our season,” Salman said.

To keep his grapes from turning into raisins in the sun, Salman says “we have decided to irrigate ahead (of peak summer heat) to keep the vines happy and hydrated.”

Growers and winemakers in Northern California have started working earlier in the day but they’re worried about more than the vines — if the barrel room doesn’t stay consistently at 60 degrees or below, “you could have sugar deficiency because of this high heat,” according to Joseph Smith, with Lodi’s Klinker Brick winery.

Smith says a humidifier in the barrel room is the key to preventing wine from fermenting too quickly. In an industry where a grower’s decision can have an impact for years to come, taking chances isn’t advisable.

The impact of the recent — and future — heat this season will be realized in the bottle in about two years, when the fruit from the field finds its way into your glass in the 2019 vintage.

Napa Valley workers are also feeling the heat, and their grapegrowers group requires workers to have shade available when the temperature climbs above 80, and to take breaks every two hours when the mercury reaches 95 degrees.

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