If you judge by the coverage of major news outlets the past few days, the state of California appears to be sliding into the ocean. With some places receiving up to a foot of rain within 24 hours, a lot of people are without power, towns have been flooded, school canceled, trees downed, cars hydroplaning off the road – the list goes on. The Napa River, which I observed at depressingly-low levels earlier this summer, was close to overflowing its banks.
The storm’s arrival here, however, was relatively muted. Don’t get me wrong – there was A LOT of water on the roads, and certainly some flooded out streets and vineyards. But as far as I know, there were no widespread power outages and none of the major roads were out. After all the hype, it was a bit anticlimactic.
Not so just over the mountains in Healdsburg, Sonoma, which was completely flooded, and where some creative residents resorted to kayaking around town.The coast seems to have been pretty badly battered too – not to mention further south in Marin and San Francisco proper.
What does this mean for the vineyards? Well, honestly probably not that much. At this point in the year the vines are dormant, and since the floodwaters aren’t salt water, they won’t really do that much damage to the soil or rootstock. The hope is that the rains will replenish underground aquifers to relieve the stress of the drought that’s been going on for the past few years and reached critical levels this summer/fall. One danger – especially acute for newly planted vineyards on steep slopes – is soil erosion. I witnessed a few crews spreading straw to help prevent such an event in the days leading up to the storm.
After the drought (and maybe the earthquake?) the old water drainage paths seem to have changed as well: as one vintner on Howell Mountain put it “it was a shitstorm of water spilling down the mountain and across the roads”, to the point that some of them really should have been closed. Another issue (depending on the quality-mindedness of the farmer) is flooded vineyards, especially in low-lying areas. With the drought the past few years, low spots have remained abnormally dry. I’ve noticed one such vineyard being planted over the past year, which today stood a few feet deep in water. Not exactly prime vineyard land despite its location in a high profile Napa sub-AVA. This has more to do with long term water table levels than the flooding right now, but it’s still an issue some winemakers will have to contend with.
Frankly, at this point, any time it rains I’m pretty excited. So while I certainly don’t want to make light of any damage that has been wrought in other areas, I’m also thankful that we are getting the water we are. Even with substantial rains, it could take California several years to return to pre-drought water levels.
A photo posted by Odette Estate (@odetteestate) on
Adrienne is a native New Yorker who now lives in Napa with a penchant for all things food & beverage. Previously she co-founded Dipsology, a guide to great cocktails in NYC, and she is also a Certified Sommelier. Follow her on twitter @alstillman.