It's Raining in Wine Country.
Rows of vineyards with a haze during rainy season in Temecula Valley

...and that's a big deal, for several reasons.

Yesterday morning, calls and emails from wineries started coming in to Grapeline. "We're closed due to rain." First off, don't panic and change your plans if you're coming out on a wine tour. One of the advantages of a tour with a wine country insider is that they will know exactly which of California's 3,700 or so wineries are closed on any given day.

Rain is a big deal in California Wine Country, and really big rain is a really big deal. The reason for the closures - many along rural routes like the Deportola Wine Trail in Temecula Valley - was localized flooding that made access roads impassable. The National Weather Service issued flood warnings yesterday for both the Napa River and the Russian River (in Sonoma County). Low lying areas might be moderately affected today. Visitors travelling from the South to Santa Barbara Wine Country must take the Highway 101 route rather than the slightly more direct Highway 154, due to debris flow clogging a culvert and stopping up the roadway.

But rain is also a big deal because it hasn't happened much in California for almost a decade. From December 2011 to March 2017, the state suffered one of the deepest droughts on record. In fact, the period from late 2011 to 2014 was the driest since record keeping began. Finally, in April of 2017, Governor Jerry Brown announced that the drought emergency was over. But that's not the same as saying our water woes are finished. As of February 12, 2019, was still reporting that 53% of the state is "Abnormally Dry" and another 11% was in Moderate to Severe Drought conditions.

When you strip away the mystery and the marketing, the wine business is - at its heart - based on agriculture. Crops need water. And lack of rain means that the mineral balance of the soil gets out of whack, with salts building up to higher levels, so even irrigation is not a completely adequate substitute. So for our vintners, the rain falling this week, despite its disruptive effects, is a welcome relief from a long dry spell.

Rain has other impacts. You may have heard that rain at harvest time is bad for wine. That's true. Too much water right before picking can swell grapes, diluting the natural sugars and flavors. But rain at this point in the growing season poses no such risk, and actually offers wine country visitors a benefit. The hills and valleys of all California's Wine Countries are now carpeted with a thick green grasses and colorful wildflowers.

So it's particularly beautiful in Wine Country right now. And the air is crisp and clean. And the farmers may be grumbling about something, like they always do, but not about lack of rain. So even if the drops are falling, it's a perfect time to leave the dreary city behind and come taste among the vineyards. Wine tasting is one of the truly wonderful indoor sports. What else are you going to do on a rainy day?


~ Kay Syrah

Wine Country Guru Gal

 Official Blog