Shoshone Falls on the Snake River in Idaho / Image Courtesy of Shutter Stock
What do Bordeaux, Loire, Mosel, Rhine, Rhône, Douro, Napa, Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Tokaj and the Wachau all have in common? If you said they are all major wine regions split by rivers or laced with tributaries, pour yourself a glass of wine.
It may seem obvious, but wine wouldn’t exist without water. And rivers deliver it. For centuries that has meant soil, sediment, nutrients, warming and cooling influences and, of course, water, all traveling along riverbanks.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), today the United States alone has more than 3 million miles of rivers and streams—and many of those miles have historically made agriculture, including viticulture, possible.
But with development, climate change, pollution and a myriad of other factors, these rivers might be in major trouble.
The Napa River
Learning from Past Mistakes
“The Napa River is the lifeblood of the Napa Valley,” says Will Drayton, director of technical viticulture, sustainability and research at Treasury Americas, a division of Treasury Wine Estates.
Running around 50 miles from Mt. St. Helena in the north and spilling into the San Pablo Bay, the Napa River is home to plants, endangered critters and some of the most valuable acreage of grapevines in the country.
Since the first European colonists arrived in Napa in 1823, the river has faced a series of degradations.
For instance, the beavers, whose dams create wetlands near the riverbanks, which help regulate flooding, had their populations decimated by hunters in the 1840s. Dams, such as the York Dam, were constructed in the 1800s and onward to mitigate flooding. However, the manmade versions didn’t do such a great job: There were a recorded 21 major floods from 1862 onward.