Weather is never far from our minds, whether it dictates how we dress or, in the case of our present drought in California, what the lack of water may mean for vintage 2009. Only the economic slump trumps weather this year.
The weather in Northern California the past two weeks has been glorious. It’s been cold and frosty in the mornings, but warm and sunny during the day. This past weekend felt more like April or May than February, which is often one of the wettest months in Northern California. January is usually the wettest , but this year it was almost rain-free.
The lack of rain is starting to make winegrowers nervous. With this being the third year of drought, water is already scarce, supplies are low and if the weather stays unseasonably warm, grapevines will be tricked into thinking it’s already time to get busy making grapes.
The good news is that forecasts call for rain in the form of a couple of storms later this week. But it’s not likely to be enough to return water supplies to normal. That means winemakers will have to pay special attention to how they ration water, since the wet stuff is crucial to frost protection, which is No. 3 on people’s minds.
Last year’s late frost hammered many vineyards, cutting tonnage by up to 75 percent and leading to a small crop. That was especially tough on small vineyard operations. In the bigger picture, though, the small crop in 2008 may be a blessing in this tough market. It means less wine was made and less wine will need to be sold and inventories will shrink.
Given the state of economic affairs, about the last thing California needs in 2009 is a bumper crop. Looking at rainfall figures and prospects for this year, a big crop hardly looks like its in the cards. That may be the best thing about a drought—frost or no frost.