Rainy weather makes for another wet California winter


Rainbow over Tablas Creek.
Rainbow over Tablas Creek.

After a very wet winter and spring in 2023, California is seeing another series of winter storms in the form of both significant rain and high mountain snow in early 2024. The state was beset with difficult conditions, particularly in Southern California, where Los Angeles saw nearly half a year’s worth of rainfall in only a few short days.

Fatalities, flooding and more than 400 mudslides were just some of the results of the intense storms in California.

The already saturated ground and stressed infrastructure will make the pending storms even more challenging for parts of the state.

In California’s wine country, the rains were largely seen as a positive, particularly after the 2023 vintage, which is being heralded as one of the best ever for regions like Napa and Sonoma. The banner year was kicked off with a particularly wet winter and spring.

Napa Valley

Bruce Phillips, owner and grape grower at Napa’s Vine Hill Ranch, saw the rains as a net positive both now and for the vintage to come. ‘We received approximately 53% of our average annual rainfall through the month of January 2024,’ Phillips said. ‘In light of the El Niño pattern existent off the Pacific Coast, the Napa Valley had anticipated heavy rainfall this season and was well prepared for its arrival despite the accompanying high winds that resulted in widespread power outages and fallen trees across the region.’

That said, because of our well-draining soils and the fact that cover crops were well established prior to the downpours, there was no significant damage to vineyards across Napa County. All of this portends well for the delivery of much-needed water to Napa County and for an increased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains, which is so critical for the balance of the state’s water supply.’

Sonoma Coast

‘We follow a no-till path with regenerative-organic-biodynamic principles at RAEN,’ said the winery’s proprietor Carlo Mondavi. ‘This means that we have a great deal of organic matter in our soils, which helps retain the rainwater, leaving us minimal to no runoff. This helps nourish our soils and vines while also preventing erosion.’

Mondavi continued: ‘With wet soils and severe winds we saw many beautiful old trees fall across Napa and Sonoma, including at our vineyards on the Sonoma Coast. One mature fir fell along the edge of our Royal St. Robert block, crossing a few rows. It’s hard to say what the total damage is, as some of the vines might pull through. It could be a loss of no vines or a maximum of five.’

‘Throughout the AVAs that we work with, the main issue was wind,’ said Kosta Browne winemaker Julien Howsepian. ‘With 50-to-60-mile-per-hour gusts knocking down trees and causing power outages.’

‘While it was a wild few days, the rain was very much welcome. As we head into the 2024 growing season, we have abundant groundwater at our vineyard sites in some regions, including the Sta. Rita Hills, which has received eight to nine inches of rain, we’ve already hit our annual rainfall averages. After more than a few drought vintages in recent years, having enough water to work with will be very beneficial for our vineyards and wines.’

San Luis Obispo Coast

Further south, the rains more than sufficiently quenched some of the state’s typically parched areas while also creating some unease for vineyard teams.

‘On the San Luis Obispo Coast, we received around five inches of rain this past week, which is a nice amount for our typically rain-starved region,’ said Eric Johnson, director of viticulture and winemaking at Talley Vineyards. ‘There was no real damage felt except for a few fallen oak branches. Luckily, we have a couple of weeks until bud break, so the vines and this year’s crop didn’t experience any damage.’

‘We do see two downsides to the rain,’ Johnson explained. ‘First, the storm was fairly warm, so it did nothing to help the hibernation of the vines….

Source : https://www.decanter.com/wine-news/rainy-weather-makes-for-another-wet-california-winter-522757/