Vines & Wines: Ramona winemakers help SDSU researchers study the impact of climate change on vineyards


The Ramona wine industry is participating in an investigation that could lead to changes in farming practices.

Ramona grape growers and vineyard managers are collaborating with San Diego State University researchers to study the impacts and challenges of climate change on wine grape production.

Researchers distributed the survey, “Local Vineyard Trends and Adaptation to Climate Change,” at a meeting of the Ramona Valley Vineyard Association (RVVA) at Westwynd Vineyard on the Old Julian Highway in Ramona on September 27.

Presenters at the meeting, which was attended by 60 vineyard and winery owners and business leaders, included SDSU PhD graduate Alessandra Zuniga. candidate who studies the impacts of climate on the physiology of the vine and its productivity.

Alessandra Zuniga

(Courtesy of Alessandra Zuniga)

The survey questions aim to find out how growers experience climate impacts, how their vines respond to climate, and what types of technologies or tools they currently use to monitor climate or to monitor climate impacts on vines, Zuniga said.

“One of the reasons we’re doing this is because we think the perspective of winemakers is important, but they haven’t been well represented in research and academic efforts,” said Zuniga, who focuses over San Diego and Riverside counties. “We want to give them the opportunity to have their voices heard and contribute their views and ideas so that they can be better reflected in scientific breakthroughs, policy and resource development.”

The ultimate goal of the study is to ensure the sustained production of quality wines in the region, Zuniga said.

Information about an SDSU climate change investigation was presented at Westwynd Vineyard, located on the Old Julian Highway.

Information about an SDSU climate change investigation was presented at Westwynd Vineyard, located on the Old Julian Highway.

(Kristina Steinberg Photography)

RVVA President Susanne Sapier said the collaboration will help local wineries keep up to date with new trends and best practices.

“You can judge the quality of a wine region by the strength of the relationships it has with the surrounding academic world,” Sapier said, citing Napa Valley’s ties to UC Davis and Finger Lakes’ ties to the Cornell University. “If there is a problem, they are the ones who can do the research and find solutions.”

Climate change is impacting viticulture and subsequently winemaking, Sapier said. Signs that Ramona is being affected by the weather — increased heat and little rainfall — are reduced yields across the valley, she said. With too much heat, grapes can ripen too soon or turn into raisins, and without enough rainfall, the salt in the ground doesn’t wash away, she said.

In addition to demographic information, the survey asks respondents multiple-choice questions that describe changes in weather and wine events they may have experienced over the past decade. The questions cover six subsections: vineyard descriptions, observed climate trends, climate/weather impacts on the vineyard, adaptive management strategies, climate perceptions, and accessibility to knowledge and resources.

RVVA intends to distribute the survey results to its members, and from there, Ramona winemakers may decide to change products or strategies, such as planting different grape varieties, Sapier said. Having climate change data would also inform regulators of trends or support applications for farm grants or subsidies, she added.

“This will allow us to anticipate the problem and find solutions before it becomes too impactful and before we lose entire crops,” Sapier said.

Westwynd guests have a view of the Sangiovese vineyard and hay barn.

Westwynd guests have a view of the Sangiovese vineyard and hay barn.

(Kristina Steinberg Photography)

Zuniga, a fourth-year ecology student in a joint SDSU and UC Davis doctorate. program, is leading the climate change study with SDSU Ph.D. student Corrie Monteverde, who studies climate science in the geography department, and SDSU geography professor Amy Quandt, principal investigator of the study .

The trio began developing the investigation this summer. Zuniga said a lot of similar research is being done in Northern California, especially in the Napa Valley and Sonoma wine regions. The Southern California region has been largely overlooked, she said, even though the region is a major contributor to wine production.

“In a broad sense, we hope this research will open up collaborations,” Zuniga said. “This will help us identify areas where winemakers need help, which can spur resource development and hopefully steer us towards climate adaptation and wine industry resilience. “

Corrie Monteverde

Corrie Monteverde

(Courtesy of Alessandra Zuniga)

In addition to RVVA, the three researchers reach out to the San Diego County Vintners Association and the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association, as well as individual winemakers. Through widespread research, they hope to be able to gain stronger insights and come to better conclusions about the impacts of climate change, Zuniga said.

Amy Whent

Amy Whent

(Courtesy of Alessandra Zuniga)

Teri Kerns, co-owner of Ramona Ranch Vineyard & Winery, responded to the survey. She said she was waiting for the results before she and her husband, Micole Moore, change the way they grow their grapes. Changes could be made to rootstock selections, watering schedules and pruning or possibly in other ways, Kerns said.

“We greatly appreciate the collaboration with SDSU and … Quandt’s project to collect and analyze data on our San Diego wine industry, and encourage all winemakers, even if you are not a commercial winery, to participate in the rapid survey, increasing researchers’ ability to document climate change trends and the needs of our agriculture industry,” Kerns said in an email.

Kerns, who has been growing wine grapes in America’s Ramona Valley wine region since 2006, has noticed changes in weather patterns that could affect their crops. When she and Moore started, she said harvest always started after Labor Day, but over the years they’ve seen the grapes ripen earlier.

One year she said they even picked white wine grapes in late July.

“The saying that good wine is made in the vineyard is true, and our philosophy is that the longer the grapes can cling to the vine, the more complex the fruit and the resulting wine, so summers so hot and warm like 2018 lead to earlier harvests, which require more winemaking effort,” said Kerns, who started making wine in 2005 and opened in 2012.

“Wine grapes can arrive too ripe, resulting in stalled fermentation, or too low in acid, lacking the freshness associated with white wine. These challenges are overcome through skilled winemaking and we are still learning what the long-term effect is on the health of the vines.

Micole Moore, left, and Teri Kerns of Ramona Ranch Vineyard & Winery encourage winemakers to complete the SDSU survey.

Micole Moore, left, and Teri Kerns of Ramona Ranch Vineyard & Winery encourage winemakers to complete the SDSU climate change survey.

(Courtesy of Teri Kerns)

Bill Schweitzer, owner of the 6-acre Paccielo Vineyard in Ramona planted more than 20 years ago, said the local wine region benefits when the academic community takes an interest in connecting the wine industry to broader studies on climate change. Schweitzer plans to share an article he wrote half a dozen years ago on Ramona’s good microclimate for viticulture to give the three researchers some perspective on the changing trends.

“I thought the survey was really interesting in that it touched on one of the really important things for Ramona to understand – that the climate is changing and we don’t have all the advantages we used to have anymore.” , said Schweitzer, who filled out the survey the day after the SDSU presentation.

Virginia Boney, co-owner of Rancho San Martin Winery in Ramona with her husband Gary, said she thinks it may be too soon to tell if climate change is having an effect on vineyards.

California’s weather changes from year to year, with light rain in some years and heavy rain in other years, Boney said. Trends will develop over time, she said, although she noticed the harvest was getting earlier.

“You can’t tell a year from now,” said Boney, whose one-acre vineyard with four grape varieties was planted in 2010. “We’ve had a series of hot weather this year and a lot of people have had a drop in production due to the heat. Is it climate change? I do not know. I’m not ready to tell.

Boney, who responded to the survey, said she wants to know the trends before making any changes to her farming practices, such as watering earlier, watering more frequently or adding elements. nutrients on the ground.

The SDSU survey is available online at

Zuniga and its partners will review the responses and compile the data after the surveys are collected in late October. Surveys are anonymous and contain no contact information. The objective is therefore to share the results with the respondents through the participating wine organizations.

In the long term, researchers will analyze the information, make interpretations and publish a paper in scientific journals, Zuniga said. The survey is also a chapter in his thesis on “Climate Impacts on Grapevine Production Systems in Southern California.”

“Ramona surprisingly has a unique microclimate, so even though it’s in a very hot region, because the ocean is so close, it gives us climate advantages that could protect us in some way,” said she declared. “What we’re saying is right now it’s a really great place to grow grapes, but we don’t know what the future holds.”


About Author

Comments are closed.