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How Some Napa Vinters Are Responding to Climate Change

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Thursday May 27th, 2010 | 0 Comments

Wine grapes are very sensitive to temperature, as my vineyard farmer grandfather used to tell me. He would cite the difference in the quality of wines in areas with coastal breezes and the land-locked San Joaquin Valley as an example. A team of scientists said in a 2006 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that premium wine grape production could decrease by up to 81 percent by the end of this century. The scientists also said that an increase in the frequency of extremely hot days, which they defined as above 95 degrees, is the reason. Without any adaptation measures, the increase of extremely hot days would “eliminate wine grape production in many areas of the United States,” the scientists wrote.

John Williams, founder of Frog’s Leap winery in Napa, which journalist Mark Hertsgaard characterizes as “one of the most ecologically minded wineries,” said, “We have no idea what effects global warming will have on the conditions that affect Napa Valley wines.” He added, “All I know is, there are things I can do to stop, or at least slow down, global warming, and those are things I should do.”

Williams powers his winery with 1,020 solar panels which provide all of its energy needs, and heats and cools it with a geothermal system. His vineyards are organic. In 2005, Frog’s Leap built a new hospitality center and administrative office according to LEED standards. Williams dry farms his vineyards, which eliminates the need for irrigation.

Williams is not the only Napa Valley vinter doing what he can to slow down climate change. The Napa Valley Vinters (NVV), a non-profit trade association, created the Climate Change Task Force, which works with geophysicists from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. It works with geophysicists because the ocean is “the single-most important influence on weather in Napa,” as the NVV’s website states.

The NVV helped launch the Napa Green Farm Certification Program, which provides incentives to encourage farmers and land owners in Napa County to meet environmentally-friendly standards. The goals of Napa Green are to:

  • Ensure compliance with all local, state and federal environmental regulations, including the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act
  • Implement beneficial management practices and promote sustainable agriculture and ecosystems
  • Improve water quality and aquatic habitat
  • Develop and implement restoration and soil erosion control projects
  • Expand community awareness of responsible management by grape growers

“The Napa Green Farm Certification Program is the most important and comprehensive environmental incentive program to hit the Napa Valley,” said Clay Gregory, past president of the Napa Valley Vintners. “Participants get professional help in customizing their own proprietary Farm Plan, at little or no cost and the environmental benefits are enormous, he added.


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