Napa raisins and English syrah, oh my!


The climate summary for June 2012 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration details an historically warm month for the United States. That fact will come as no great surprise to those sweltering Midwesterners and Easterners who’ve seen more than 4,500 daily high temperature records crushed during the course of that miserable 30-day period.

Overall, it was the 14th warmest June in the 118 years since such data have been recorded and marked the warmest 12-month period ever for the continental U.S. during that time.

Between June 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012, each of the thirteen consecutive months ranked among the warmest third of their historical distribution for the first time ever. That kind of occurrence, if random, would carry the rather long odds of 1,594,323-to-1 of happening again — or roughly equivalent to the probability that the two big potholes on Bryant Avenue that conspire daily to wreak havoc on my unsuspecting tires will be fixed in my lifetime.

In addition, June was the 328th consecutive month with an average global temperature above the 20th century average. The last time the world was below that mark was way back in February 1985, when gasoline cost $1.20 a gallon, the Internet was barely a gleam in Al Gore’s eyes and your erstwhile weatherman had a partial head of hair.

Despite all of the scientific and anecdotal evidence to the contrary, there are still those flat-earth and geocentric-universe believers, like forward-thinking friend of Big Oil and current U.S. Sen. James “Neanderthal” Inhofe of Oklahoma, who refuse to concede climate change tied to excessive carbon dioxide and other emissions from rampant use of fossil fuels is a real and present threat to our planet.

In the viticultural world, this issue has taken on an urgency of its own. Numerous reputable studies and forecast models indicate an average temperature increase worldwide between the 35th and 50th latitudes — where more than 90 percent of the world’s fine wine grapes are grown — of 3 to 10 degrees by the time this century ends.

According to these projections, grape-growing areas that are now notably warm, such as southern France and Italy, most of Spain and much of northern and central California, will become too hot to support the kind of viticulture that has contributed to their renown in the past.

It’s an idea that has been met with great consternation by some of my former acquaintances in the Napa Valley who have been making a living off of overpriced, generally undistinguished, high-alcohol cabernet offerings for many years now. Napa may end up the new center of U.S. raisin production someday — supplanting the Fresno area, which may by that time be reduced to a searingly hostile desert where only a few scraggly date palms can scratch out a borderline existence.

Conversely, those areas formerly deemed unacceptably cool for fine wine production will find themselves warmed into a viticultural sweet spot of thermal nirvana that will enable them to ascend the grape quality ladder to heretofore unimagined heights.

Places like the perpetually cool and/or wet Willamette Valley, Puget Sound, British Columbia’s enchanting Okanagan Valley and even England will become the new nexus of fine wine as warmer temperatures make a northward shift. English syrah may be all the rage by 2080, though that particular notion is as hard to swallow now as some of England’s lightly regarded culinary creations.

No worries in the here and now though.

The pesky low that brought occasional bouts of entertainingly flashy, loud inclement weather last week is long gone and has been replaced by a warm and dry westerly flow that should keep afternoon readings right around the mid- to upper-80s. Which is just right for all of our lovely local grapes now sizing up nicely in the summer sun.

A lifelong fan of both the weather and the Baltimore Orioles, Jeff Popick is an instructor at the Enology and Viticulture Center at Walla Walla Community College and manages the school’s teaching vineyard. Send your questions and comments to him at


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