El Nino vs. California Vino: How Heavy Rains Could Impact Hollywood's Favorite Wines

Illustration by: Sam Island

This year's harvest could be amazing — or bitter.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Last year's drought had Napa Valley and Sonoma vineyards producing some of the best wines in a decade: Vines burrowed deeper in search of water to make a grape with more concentrated sugar and complex flavor. But most winegrowers don't have a solid forecast about El Nino's impact. "The winter's rainfall total is only part of the story," says David W. Graves, co-founder of Napa's Saintsbury Winery, who adds that too cold (or too warm) temps can be bad for wine. Francis Ford Coppola Winery president Corey Beck adds: "For 2016 to be a great vintage, we need rain in California from December through February, until the growing season starts" — also known as the bud break, often in March — "then we want the rain to subside."

But if El Nino doesn't back off, says Beck, "botrytis [mold] will start forming on the vines and grapes, [which] can lead to a bitter finish on the palate." Previous El Ninos, as in 1997-98, have resulted in great vintages, he says: "The 1997 vintage was a great year for all varietals. Cabernet sauvignon was a shining star in 1997. They had color, weight, depth and amazing intensity." So, wine lovers, look to the skies: If it's coming down through February, amazing cabs may be in store. But after March, your favorite vintages, not unlike your unproofed basements, may come dressed in mold.