Napa Valley’s farming community is indisputably world-class. It’s innovative, diverse and adaptive.
But not clairvoyant.
Science tells us the planet is getting warmer. Some debate how much warmer and at what pace, but ultimately that should not be the Napa Valley’s focus moving forward.
Climate change is not required for our local farmers to lead their industry toward positive change that will benefit both the environment and future generations of grapegrowers.
Without the benefit of a crystal ball, Napa Valley grapegrowers can, to some extent, control only what they see in front of them, while acknowledging the patterns that have gone before.
Part of that history shows that it is hotter now than when Napa’s premium wine industry took flight a half-century ago.
But Napa Valley wine is as good as it’s ever been today, in part, because of that warming.
If that positive should eventually turn negative, it will do so gradually.
It’s what makes climate change so hard to combat. It won’t arrive one day wielding a sword. It’s here every day throwing pebbles.
Historically, the county’s agricultural community has done a tremendous job dealing with more immediate threats like invasive pests, most recently the glassy-winged sharpshooter, the light brown apple moth and the European grapevine moth.
In 2009, the European grapevine moth wiped out 11 acres in Oakville at Wicker Vineyards. That reality awoke the county to the severity of the problem, and the industry acted swiftly and decisively to eradicate the threat. Public awareness was everywhere and united. The damage was limited.
Global warming does not share that same public consensus, nor is it leaving behind flattened vineyards as proof of its power.
It invites debate over its severity and pace of change.
That’s not where Napa Valley’s focus should lie.
Promoting sustainability and being good stewards of the land makes sense with or without a change in climate.
There’s an argument to be made that such practices make for better wine. And if reducing greenhouse gas emissions helps limit the effects of increased temperatures, all the better.
“Let’s face it, even if we believed that the Napa Valley would survive well (through global warming), we have a responsibility to do what we can to try limit the impact of what we create,” said Napa County Agricultural Commissioner Dave Whitmer.
Napa Valley farmers are doing just that.
The green initiative is front of mind for the majority of local farmers and for the industry’s leading organizations.
Why? In part because there’s an obvious incentive to prolong the present. The Napa Valley has enjoyed some of the best growing conditions in its history over the past two decades.
Could growers freeze these conditions in time, they probably would.
But nothing farmers do in this rural community will have a great direct impact on climate change. It’s coming — to whatever degree — with or without our sustainable practices.
What Napa can do as the nation’s premier wine-producing region is set a new, higher green standard. Local growers can raise the bar for what’s expected in the industry and teach others how best to adapt to change.
The Napa Valley can continue to lead by example, as it has done for the past half a century.