The annual wine grape harvest is winding down, with several events playing significant roles.
First came a heat wave that started around the Labor Day weekend. New high-temperature records were set, but it was the supposed low temps at night that worried vintners the most. The hot nights cause the grapes’ sugar levels to spike early, followed by lower acidity levels.
The heat forced an early harvest for many, which revealed another of those significant events — a general shortage of workers.
Many may be quick to blame the Trump administration’s overall attitude about illegal immigration keeping Mexico’s workers at home. But while the president’s crackdown on illegal immigrants is a factor, it is also important that Mexico’s economy is showing signs of life, keeping that labor pool in Mexico.
We won’t know for a few more days, but it appears the 2017 yield will be down somewhat from last year’s haul. That may sound dire, until you remember that last year’s yield was up, considerably, from the previous year.
The prediction now is the yield will be down, but the quality will be very good.
And that brings is to another event having an impact on local vintners — the raging wildfires in Northern California, specifically the fires that have devastated vineyards and wineries in the Napa Valley region. It’s too soon to say what effects that will have on the wine industry overall, but it is certain to be significant.
No matter what the outcome of those fires up north, the impacts will be felt here. One immediate effect is that a former Valley couple, Marlene and Phil Demery, lost their Santa Rosa home to the Tubbs Fire.
Marlene is the former Solvang city manager, and husband Phil was Santa Barbara County public works director before retiring and relocating to their Italian-style villa in Santa Rosa.
Their loss is very personal, but it is only one of thousands of stories from this fire season. All of which have compelled two Central Coast wine organizations to start a fund-raising effort to help fire victims in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties.
The Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation and the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance are seeking donations from the local winemaking community and the public. The Santa Barbara County effort will funnel funds collected in the drive to fire victims through Goleta-based Direct Relief International.
This is a situation we should all think about, carefully, because there-but-for-the-grace-of-God it could be us.
Even though California managed to wiggle out of its severe drought condition when last winter’s rains stormed through the region, we are never really out of the woods with regard to the threat of wildfires.
What turns green after a decent amount of rain turns brown over the summer months. It is a cycle that repeats itself most every year — and this has become one of the worst in California’s recorded history when it comes to raging, out-of-control conflagrations.
And it is not over yet. The climate experts are expecting La Nina conditions this coming winter, which depending on jet stream currents could mean another winter without a lot of rain. If that prediction comes true, we will find ourselves in another wildfire season that never really ends.
We can celebrate the approaching end of another wine grape harvest, but while doing so we also need to be aware of the ever-present threat of wildfire, have a good plan for escape and staying alive, and begin the frantic, ever-accelerating rush into the holiday season.