• Alexander Smith

No more Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa?

A Napa Touriga Nacional or Tannat? It might just happen. With rising temperatures of around 2 degrees since 2010, along with earlier picking dates into the beginning of September, some Californian winemakers are worried. Climate change is being blamed, and there is not a lot they can do about it. In future years, temperatures are predicted to rise, and unless some miracle rootstock can be found, winemakers need to act now to ensure the future is bright for Napa wines.

Some readers might wonder why can we not just pick the grapes earlier? The simple answer is that even though the sugar would be in check, the development of the tannins and flavour profiles would be a mess. The result; a very ripe, sugary and bland wine.

Touriga Nacional in Portugal, but will we see it in California soon?

As per the San Fransisco Chronicle, certain wineries including Landmead, Spottswoode and Beckstoffer have already taken action. These wineries have started researching new varieties, which are known to be heat resistant. Red varieties being investigated include Touriga Nacional, Tempranillo and Tannat, along with California classics of Zinfandel and Petit Sirah. Experimental blocks are being planted to further investigate which of these perform best. Now before readers get worried that the end is near for Napa in California, don't. What this means is that in the future, other varieties might start creeping into the blend. This is to ensure a consistent house style is produced and not one of jammy, ripe and sugary nature.

I reached out to David Ramey, from Ramey Wine Cellars, and one of his first comments was to not generalize too quickly, this is not a Californian wide issue. There is the Pacific Ocean which provides the welcome morning fog and helps to cool the grapes up and down the coast.

The take away from certain wineries though is to not just sit and wait, 30 years might seem along time, but it will come quickly. Those who are already experimental will be one step ahead, and even though Cabernet has always been the king of Napa, other varieties might help to elevate the wines in Napa to find a new style. Bordeaux also recently allowed a range of new varieties to be minor blending components, which was also done for similar reasons.

My opinion, climate change is here. The world is slowly warming and so certain regions need to be more on their toes than they were 15-20 years ago. Canopy management, earlier picking dates and different rootstocks allows the vigneron to better control the sugar level and flavour development. Yet, with rising temperatures that might not be enough in the coming years. So even if we do not see Cabernet Sauvignon completely going away from Napa, we will see blends adjusted, and it is possible that a Californian Napa Cabernet will become a Californian Napa blend. To be continued....

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