The Northern California wine industry faces many challenges from fire, drought, climate change and more, but Karen Trippe Mannix says its future is rooted in people and place.
The winery where I work is suffused with the smell of fermenting grapes. Tall redwood doors are thrown open, cool morning air clearing out carbon dioxide that’s gathered overnight as yeasts ferment each ripe grape. Cream-colored bins brim with tight clusters of grapes waiting to journey from vine to bottle. The crush pad is abuzz with beeping forklifts, tangles of white hoses, sweaty faces, and purple-stained hands. No one is still, except the bees gorging on pools of sticky juice. A bacchanalia in miniature. It’s been a dry, hard year for them, too.
Irrigation ponds are dried to a few inches of algae and green sludge. The mountains that hem in our valley still bear burn scars, and skeletal trees stand in dark relief. This multi-year drought weighs heavily on us, and the windy, warm days that usher in Fall set us all on edge—one spark, and we would surely alight in flames again.
And yet, we adapt and persist. The vines still set forth tender shoots and ripened their clusters through this dusty, dry summer. Vineyard managers employ creative methods to better retain water in Napa Valley’s many soil types, and this record-breaking drought will serve as a case study for the dry years to come. There is excitement about the 2021 vintage, a window into the concentration and purity hard-wrought from the dry ground. So many are eager to visit Napa Valley, delighted to taste and buy the wines we are so well known for.
And the beauty of our valley remains unmatched, despite the challenges and changing conditions. On my drive home last night, low lavender clouds nestled against the hillsides, and the golden grasses shined in the evening glow. Clusters of grapes hung heavy on vines, waiting to be picked.
The future is uncertain, but we are moving forward with the cyclical beauty of this place, seeing the potential for a bright future alight not just with flames but possibility.
With a Perspective, I’m Karen Trippe Mannix.
Karin Trippe Mannix lives and works in the Napa Valley with her husband and young daughter.