A torrential downpour and unrelenting rain in California has brought some relief to winemakers following five years of drought, despite flooding in several vineyards and problems with landslides.

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California rainfall ‘is a blessing’

A series of winter storms caused the heaviest rainfall in the last decade, which has resulted in burst river banks, fallen trees and road blockages across California’s wine regions.

The meteorological phenomenon, caused by a polar jet stream that creates an atmospheric river known as ‘the pineapple express’, saw over 100mm of rain fall in less than 24 hours.

There has been significant flooding in poorly drained vineyards on the valley floor in Napa and Sonoma. However the timing has spared any negative impact.

‘Some parts of the vineyard are slow to drain, but the flooding hasn’t been a problem because the vines are dormant,’ explains Groth Vineyards Director of Winemaking, Cameron Parry.

‘Last year in some parts of the valley they had bud break starting in January because of a mild winter, but this year it has been cold enough that we are expecting a more normal bud break time in March.’

A more destructive consequence has been felt on the hillsides, where several mudslides have taken down vines in their path.

California rainfall

Mudslide in vineyards in Spring Mountain.

‘We have already recorded 72 inches of rain, and we aren’t done yet,’ said Ron Rosenbrand, Vineyard Manager at Spring Mountain Vineyard who were affected by landslides last week.

‘This year we have been inundated with heavy rainfall… 200% more than normal. The steeper you are, and if you have soils that are somewhat unstable, you are going to have [landslides]. It is happening all over the valley, and all over California in fact.

‘But it is a blessing. When you have been fighting the drought for many years, having more rain than you need is all of a sudden a nice luxury to have.’

As the spring arrives, and the rain subsides, most winemakers are grateful to see an end to the prolonged drought with refilled reservoirs in time for the 2017 season.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, only 17% of California is now in drought, compared to 95% this time last year.

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