Harvesting grapes in SCUBA gear?
It finally stopped raining. Strip off your clothes, soak in some vitamin D and mourn the loss of the 2011 vintage. Blame it on climate change or Al Gore or a wrathful God trying to wash away the last of those odious "Rapture" billboards.
The point is, the unseasonal deluge is not only record-breaking but potentially heartbreaking for many in our wine industry. Fortunately, I was able to call in a favor with a certain Bond villain I know and got us a little sunshine this weekend. You're welcome, Sonoma.
For some grape growers, it could be too late. The damage is done. It's as if spring and all that the season entails in terms of pollination and fertility amongst the vines, was washed away with a bucket of cold water thrown by a schoolmarm upon necking teenagers. The wetter weather has made fertilization in the vineyard a non-starter with soggy pollen spores unable to make their destinations. Here's some "birds and bees" notes I cribbed online:
Following bloom, part of the flower called a "cap" separates and exposes the "anthers," which in turn release their pollen. Pollen flies around and eventually lands on the stigma and pistil of other flowers resulting in pollination wherein multiple pollen grains germinate, creating a pollen tube into the pistil, then to the ovary and finally the ovule where a sperm and egg form an embryo (that last part should sound familiar). Rain screws up this process as it would, pretty much, for any creatures swapping DNA unless they're in a romantic movie.
Here's another possible problem: If the rains continue deeper into summer, the grapes that do arrive might end up resembling water balloons. Vineyard managers frequently "stress" their grapes by reducing their water intake to a trickle to encourage complexity. By that token, ours might become the least stressed grapes ever grown - they'll be like stoners lined on the beach of an island resort, passing a joint and wondering if "mellow" and "marshmallow" share an etymological root, man.
Our grapes could get so plump with liquid that the notion of becoming, say, a raisin was washed away weeks ago. Not that many wine grapes aspire to be raisins but those that did have forever lost that opportunity and "opportunity is what makes this country grape," one might imagine their leader saying in a stump speech.
Speaking of stumps, whole vineyards could be mowed to their root stock, making way for strip malls and box stores, if we don't start buying local wine by the case and keep our producers in business (hey, it beats hosting a charity car wash - especially when it's raining).
We should also consider altering our local topography to reduce the impact of future storms. Obviously, Sonoma Mountain needs to be higher since it can't currently produce a "rain shadow." This is what results when mountains cast a "shadow" of dryness on their leeward side by blocking the weather. As a hack, of course, I'm more taken with the pseudo-poetry of "Rain Shadow" than its actual meaning. It sounds like a cheap cologne I might have worn in the '80s. Splash on some Rain Shadow and suddenly you smell of wet wool and cigarettes and are prone to linger outside shop windows always waiting for her and muttering "compulsion" in a British accent.
If the rain continues through fall, we may have to harvest like they do cranberries - their beds are flooded and the floating fruit is pumped into vats. Don't be alarmed if you see vineyard workers in SCUBA gear and butterfly nets come harvest. Unless, of course, it's canceled. Unfortunately, the wine industry can't pay its bills with rain-checks.
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Daedalus Howell drowns his sorrows at FMRL.com.