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james laube's wine flights

Hot Advice? Chill Out

Napa’s Labor Day weekend heat wave has the wine industry atwitter, but cooler heads will prevail
Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Sep 13, 2017 12:45pm ET

California vintners have already started weighing in on the 2017 harvest, but I'd caution patience before jumping to any conclusions about the impact of our ongoing wine-country heat wave. Time has a way of healing bruises.

This harvest season has brought unseasonably scorching hot weather, with temperatures hitting 100° to 110° F around Labor Day. Humidity is also creating an environment in which the Botrytis cinerea fungus thrives.

There's no arguing that excessive heat can cause some headaches for vintners. Grapes can shrivel, raisin or split. Volume evaporates, reducing yields. Harvest becomes a sprint. Fermentation space becomes precious.

I measure heat by the number of days I turn on the A.C. For the past decade I've barely used it. But during this recent stretch I left it on all day and most of the night. It's been hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk, or even plunk a few ice cubes into your wine.

That latter point seems lost on many people. They ask if it's OK to put ice in their wine, as if it's going to do something more serious than dilute it the same way cubes dilute tea or soda. Ah, common sense lost at the time when we need it most.

Adding ice, by the way, will also lower the alcohol level in your glass, or soften the wine's concentration if you find your wine too extracted to drink when it's 110° in the shade.

The headaches of excessive heat and whatever damage it causes the 2017 vintage will fade. It might be painful at the moment, but by the time the grapes are fermenting, or headed to barrel, the tune will change. 2017 will be much better than it appeared during the heat of the battle. By the time the wines are released, only the best lots will have made it to bottle. These heated moments will be faded memories by the time we're enjoying the 2017s.

Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  September 15, 2017 11:35pm ET
Mr. Laube, I apologize in advance for going WAY off topic. But I can't seem to find a single blog, site, etc. that has addressed the infernal login issue. I understand that Chase, BofA and Wells require certain standards when it comes to the passwords used to access accounts. But I recently have tried to log in to multiple vintners' accounts to place orders only to find that it takes me 30-60 minutes on each one because there is no freaking way I am going to memorize the crazy login data they require each time. And when I ask to have my password reset their servers are so overloaded that it takes a full day for them to reset! I had to warn one very prominent vintner that if it happens again I will simply resort to purchasing a single bottle of their precious wine off of WineBid each vintage because, hey, I actually bill $250/hr for my practice, so your wine is no longer worth my time. Either something changes or customers like me go away. And this is true for MOST of the highly-allocated wineries. Perhaps you can make this a topic for a future blog/article. I am sick of it.
Dave Lund
Greenfield Minnesota —  September 17, 2017 8:12pm ET
James, I have a question about the ice cube thing. Since ice is made from water, doesn't that mean that adding an ice cube to wine adds water to wine. Isn't that a bad thing, introducing something not regularly part of wine.... oh wait, there is already water in wine.... never mind..

(Applause for the common-sense comments.)

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