Growing Grapes in Monsoon Country
August 1st, 2016
Peggy Fiandaca

Where would anyone in their right mind grow wine grapes when they know it is going to rain during the final ripening period and harvest? Arizona of course! To say we ARE of our right mind would belie the fact that we consciously entered the wine business, but that’s a subject for the analyst’s couch!

In most wine regions, rain during this critical period can be devastating. Why? Because the combination of ripe grapes, heat, moisture, and airborne spores and bacteria leads to rot and mildew that will ruin the fruit. And, let’s not even bring up hail.
  LDV Winery

So how are we able to make great wines in spite of the Arizona Monsoon? Several factors come into play. First, we know it’s coming so we can prepare for it. We begin treating the vineyard early in the season to keep it clean. We also prune and train our vines to facilitate as much airflow through the vines as possible to allow them to dry between precipitation events. Second, our rain events are sporadic and tend to not last long. This allows the vineyards a chance to dry out between storms. Finally, our monsoon season creates beneficial breezes and after all, it is Arizona, where even during the monsoon season our relative humidity readings are much lower than most other areas, especially those with maritime influences.

Another interesting circumstance we deal with being in the Chiricahua Mountains is that we typically have some type of weather event every day during the monsoon. It may be a storm but it will more than likely be a hot sunny morning followed by a cloudy cool afternoon. We call this the reverse California effect. The result is additional hang time for the fruit that increases flavors. It also creates uneven ripening as the fruit on the east side of the plant (facing the morning sun) tends to be a bit riper than the fruit on the west side of the plant (facing the cloudy skies of the afternoon). This is a winemaking challenge but it also creates an interesting mix of high intensity fruit and exciting acid structure all on one plant!

When people scoff at the notion we are making fine wine in Arizona and tells us “you are all wet,” we say, that’s ok because we are ready for it!