When Tom Gamble's grandfather arrived in Napa Valley, California in 1916, wine grapes didn't seem like the best crop for a new farmer - lawmakers were then discussing Prohibition. Gamble's grandfather t"> When Tom Gamble's grandfather arrived in Napa Valley, California in 1916, wine grapes didn't seem like the best crop for a new farmer - lawmakers were then discussing Prohibition. Gamble's grandfather t">

The world of wine is about to be turned upside down


When Tom Gamble’s grandfather arrived in Napa Valley, California in 1916, wine grapes didn’t seem like the best crop for a new farmer – lawmakers were then discussing Prohibition. Gamble’s grandfather therefore planted olives, tomatoes, pears, walnuts and hay crops, and he raised cattle. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the Gamble family branched out into the area’s most well-known crop, and now Gamble owns the 175-acre Gamble family vineyard, a sizable holding amidst some of the most prestigious terroirs of the valley.

As a third-generation farmer, Gamble knows that weather adaptation has always been part of farming. When he was a kid, the Napa River ran dry, and he often mountain-biked in the river bed. “We would never do that today,” he said…Napa Valley has made a concerted effort to restore aquifers and protect the watershed through legislation and sustainability initiatives.

But the weather has deteriorated. Due to the man-made climate crisis, Gamble and other winemakers are battling extreme heat, unseasonably cold, torrential rains and drought, not to mention wildfires. Sustainability initiatives are no longer enough: according to a 2020 article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, long-established wineries in Napa and other wine regions around the world will need to migrate or adapt to climate change to survive. In a scenario where the earth warms by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) – a scenario that seems likely – the results estimate that 56% of the world’s wine grapes would be wiped out. Losses may be unavoidable in countries that are already hot, such as Italy, Spain and Australia. Meanwhile, historically cooler wine regions, such as Germany, New Zealand and the Pacific Northwest, may become suited to warmer varieties like Mourvèdre and Grenache, while Pinot Noir, a delicate, thin-skinned grape that grows best in a cool climate, could expand north into new wine regions. Oenophiles who have learned to love certain grape varieties and vintages will have to adapt to change and uncertainty.

Napa Valley first gained worldwide fame in 1976 during a prestigious French wine competition called the Judgment of Paris. Two wines from the region, a Château Montelena Chardonnay and a Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, took top honors at the event. This surprise win skyrocketed the wine industry in Napa.

Today, there are more than 44,000 acres of vineyards in Napa Valley, and more than 50% of that acreage is devoted to Cabernet Sauvignon, a small, thick-skinned grape variety that is naturally low yielding but gives complex and full-bodied wines with soft tannins. and aromas of black fruits and leather. Although grown in a variety of climates, premium Cabernets come from regions like Napa Valley and Bordeaux, France, where the fruit sits longer on the vine, allowing the grapes and tannins to fully develop.

According to the 2018 Napa Vintage Report, between 1895 and 2018, California warmed an average of 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit during the growing season. Last year, the state experienced its hottest summer on record. Rising temperatures force grapes to ripen too quickly on the vine, lowering their acidity and increasing their sugar, resulting in flat-tasting, less vibrant wines in the glass. A grape that ripens later also stays on the vine longer, which means it is more at risk of smell of smoke induced by a forest fire that can penetrate the skin of the grape and give wine an ashtray or campfire smell and flavor.

Faced with these challenges, many Napa Valley winemakers are slowly beginning to change and experiment in the vineyard. This year, Gamble will begin replanting vines lower to the ground on native weather-resistant rootstocks and adjusting the orientation of the rows of vines to protect the grapes from the hot midday sun. He is also experimenting with varieties like syrah and zinfandel, which are better suited to a warmer climate, rather than the popular Napa cab.

Located at the northern end of the valley, Larkmead Vineyards is a historic winery established in 1895. While the winery crafts Cabernet and Bordeaux-style blends, it established its reputation with Merlot, a grape known for its texture lush and velvety, with notes of red fruits and dark chocolate. But it’s getting harder and harder to grow up. With warming temperatures, heat-sensitive, thin-skinned grapes overripe and acidity drops, resulting in a soft-tasting wine that lacks depth and complexity.

Last year, in his three-acre research block, Larkmead planted a white variety (chenin blanc) and eight reds, including tempranillo, touriga nacional and syrah, varieties that have always performed well in other warm wine regions such as Italy, Spain and Australia. . They are generally more fruity and juicy, but Larkmead is especially hoping to find out which grapes might go well with Cabernet. “Cab isn’t going away,” says Avery Heelan, Larkmead’s chief winemaker. “But it’s getting hotter here every day, and we have to adapt.”

It takes five years for a vineyard to reach full yield, so Heelan, Gamble and others won’t see results anytime soon. And simply replanting for temperature won’t solve everything. “Later ripening doesn’t mean it’s heat-tolerant or water-using,” says Beth Forrestel, assistant professor and plant biologist in the University of California’s Department of Viticulture and Enology. at Davies. “And that doesn’t mean it makes good wine.”

Forrestel is working to update the Winkler Index, a study that growers use to match suitable wine grape varieties with different regions in California. The new study analyzes 24 varieties – including wines from Spain, Portugal, southern Italy and Greece – for their response to extreme temperatures and drought, and assesses their tannins and aromas, essential elements of wine quality . It’s a long-term project, but Forrestel says she already has some favorite strains, though she won’t share which ones just yet. (She says she’ll have some useful data to share in a year or two.)

But it’s not just the vineyards that need to change. For all the challenges of growing wine grapes, consumers must also adapt. And Tom Gamble thinks younger generations will be more willing to try new wines. Each generation has a better palate than the one before, he says: “They’re so experimental.” According to the 2020 State of the Wine Industry Report, consumers are now interested in a wide variety of alcoholic beverages, including spirits, craft beer, foreign wine and fortified seltzer, instead of wine high-end local to which previous generations have turned.

In a few years, you might be tasting a Touriga Nacional or a Tempranillo from Napa Valley, a Mourvèdre from Washington State or a Pinot Noir from Canada. Wine may be something you’ve never heard of, but the world hadn’t heard of Napa cab either, back in the 1970s when the first wines from this region were presented at the Judgment of Paris.

“We’ve pushed the envelope and we’re back to nuance,” Gamble said. “Now we are thinking about how we can make wine that is not only more representative of Napa’s broader terroir, but of all microclimates. It won’t be your parents’ wines.

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