St. Helena Winery Looks To Old Grapes And New Tech

Holly Quan
November 15, 2019 - 9:12 am
Spottswoode Winery in St. Helena has incorporated a variety of grapes that may better withstand a warming climate than Cabernet.

Holly Quan/KCBS Radio

It's not easy being a grape farmer these days. Drought, wildfires and now power outages have become challenges that are forcing Bay Area winemakers to rethink everything they thought they knew about the business. 

One St. Helena winery is banking on its future success by looking to the past. 

Even unloading barrels at Spottswoode winery is an environmentally conscious move. They're using old rubber truck tires as cushion when they roll off the truck.

They've also been experimenting with different kinds of grapes, ones that are more resilient to the constantly changing growing environment. 

"We're not just worried about the heat. We're worried about greater variabilities, greater extremes and greater fluctuations," said winemaker Aron Weinkauf.

In the fields at Spottswoode are acres of old school varietals that could blend with and boost the region's renowned Cabernet. They're growing Zinfandel, Alicante Bouschet, Petit Syrah, Charbono, and Napa Gamay.

"A lot of these things were much more readily planted 60, 100 years ago," Weinkauf said. 

Modern technological features have been added too. They use shade cloth and a special irrigation system that kicks in when the temperatures climbs past 100 degrees Fahrenheit. 

The small bursts of water droplets from the sprinkler system can reduce the temperature by 10 degrees, he said. 

Anything and everything is up for consideration. Weinkauf said they may try bottling wine in lighter glass.

"I think we're all trying to be creative and flexible and really open minded and trying to figure out all of the things we can do." 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of winemaker Aron Weinkauf. We regret the error.