More inaccurate herd reporting on Napa climate change
I was glad to see, via Terry Hall, the Napa Valley Vintners issue this clarification of the true state of climate change in Napa Valley.
They had to, because there’s been some sensationalistic reporting on that topic, in publications that should know better, including Reuters, which said “the results of climate change could [push Napa] beyond the acceptable band of temperatures required for…high quality varieties,” and The Huffington Post, according to which “By 2040 Northern California might have 50% less land suitable for growing premium wine grapes due to climate change.”
They were reporting on a short abstract in an online journal, Environmental Research Letters, whose bullet point is “We find that the projected warming over this period results in the loss of suitable winegrape area throughout much of California, including most counties in the high-value North Coast and Central Coast regions.” Others who jumped on this and wrote scary predictions about Napa’s future included Stanford University, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, and the Los Angeles Times.
Maybe it’s asking too much for publications to put scientific studies into context. Journalists have neither the time nor the skills to do so. Newspapers that used to have science reporters have laid them off (with the commendable exception of the San Francisco Chronicle’s David Perlman). It’s much easier to run an attention-grabbing headline (“Warmer temperatures threaten California vineyards” — the L.A. Times) then to do actual research.
That’s why Terry Hall’s press release from yesterday (read it, please; it’s not very long) is so welcome. Terry knows, as do I and many others, that Napa Valley is not getting hotter. Anyone who lives here knows that we’re now in the seventh year of a cooling cycle, which has been notably accentuated the last three vintages. I’ve written about this endlessly in this blog: how truly hotter temperatures far inland are sucking more, not less, chilly Pacific air over the coast, which includes Napa Valley. (Terry specifically said Napa “is not considered a coastal region,” but I would dispute that. Historically, it has been considered coastal, “coastal” being synonymous with fog, which Napa Valley rightly celebrates.)
Terry called Napa “the poster child for the potential results of climate change” and he’s exactly right. Patiently, he explains the results of the Napa Valley Vintners’ own five-year study. He points out that “the results [of climate change] will not necessarily be a blanket effect, as climate change is not a ‘one size fits all’ phenomenon.” So true. Would that all reporting would be so diligent about the facts.
The NVV Study did find a little bit of local warming “over recent decades,” namely an increase of 1-2 degrees F., but only in overnight temperatures between January and August. That may be true, but it may not be. Survey findings are only as accurate as the data that were inputted, and, as we all know from reading, say, The Winemaker’s Dance, temperature and climate studies are notoriously inaccurate, especially when they go back for decades, when readings were even more unreliable than they are now.
So next time you read some panicky article on how Napa will be too hot for anything except Algerian varieties, don’t worry. Just pop open a bottle of Cabernet and read something else.