Is the Rain Bad for the Grapes?

Question from Mark: Is the rain bad for the grapes? 

Reply: In a word – yup! Rain is never good news when the grapes are ripe or nearly so. One of the things that makes Napa Valley such a great place for the vines is that we don’t, normally, see much rain after April through most of October. Our usual long, dry growing season of warm days and cool, foggy nights with perhaps a heat spike or two, to make things interesting, is just about perfect for wine grapes. 

But, this hasn’t been a normal year. The spring was quite cool and rainy, even into June and summer never, really, warmed up so harvest is late. 

And, now – RAIN! Oy, veh…

A little sprinkle doesn’t matter, just helps to settle the dust, but this week we’ve had honest-to-goodness rain. And with honest-to-goodness rain comes potential rot, mildew and dilution. Haven’t heard how many inches yet.

This is a bad combo – the rain coming so early on a harvest season that’s running late. It just puts more varieties at risk. October rain isn’t all that uncommon but, usually, by then most of the grapes are harvested leaving mostly rot-resistant varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Syrah left to go. They have thick skins and loose cluster formation which helps quite a bit. 

What’s a grower to do? Praying helps 😉 Praying for wind, in particular, is helpful because it helps dry things out. Aside from that, stripping away the leafy growth from the fruit zone improves air circulation.

Some growers go in right after the rain to get the grapes before bunch rot has a chance to develop. The grapes may be a little watery, but if it’s not too muddy to get in it’s a good option. 

Big budget growers have been known to hire helicopters to hover and dry things out but there are mixed opinions on the efficacy of doing that. 

The best remedy for rain is good weather, which is supposed to return today. Growers will get out into their vineyards to see how things look. Let’s hope for the best…

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