California Viticulture Hit Hard by Drought

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California is a major contributor within the global viticulture community. The entire state is facing a severe drought which is drastically affecting the people, wildlife and agriculture of the land mass. Because wine production and exportation is majorly important for the economy of the state, wine producers and enthusiasts are very worried about the final outcome of the drought and how hard it will have hit California’s lucrative viticulture.

The production of wine is under scrutiny by residents of the state. The amount of water necessary to keep California’s wine production stable is astronomical. With 100 percent of the state’s residents now having to watch their personal water intake, many are looking to ensure that the wineries are also under the same rules. Many wineries have been looking for new underground wells to tap in order to sustain their crops, while others are abandoning their vines altogether.

Wine growing regions of California are normally very prosperous- one region within the state was awarded the Wine Region of the Year in 2013 by Wine Enthusiast magazine. California provides well over three-fourths of the nation’s wine. Earlier this year wine production was expected to crawl, with a 25 percent decrease in production across the board. With the entire state now under the most severe drought it has seen in 100 years, wine production and viticulture as a whole will likely slow even more in the coming months, with this hit of hardship possibly lasting for years.

Many growers have backup drip irrigation systems which they utilize for particularly dry months, though that water supply depends on whether or not the reservoirs fill from rain water or other water supplies. Without a full reservoir the backup system will not be useful. Some regions, particularly the Napa Valley, were expecting the worst earlier this year in terms of drought and were confident that crops could withstand the lack of water. However, other areas only had one month of water earlier this year, so it is very likely that their current situation is dire.

Grapevines can last for awhile without water. Some growers utilize a method called “dry irrigation,” which means that the vines are only able to utilize water that their roots can reach within the ground, rather than dousing the soil. This particular method produces grapes with particular characteristics, in turn creating unique wines. However, this method was not created to build up the grapes’ resistance to drought so the current problems are not easily solved by this method alone.

On average, a grapevine being grown without water restrictions requires about six gallons of water per week. Needless to say, the grapevines of California are not receiving this necessary amount of water. Some growers are preparing for zero production for the remainder of the year as they watch their vines succumb to terrible drought conditions, one by one.

Growers were not entirely unprepared for the current drought situation, though many could not predict that conditions would be this severe. California’s wine producers have been brainstorming about climate change and its effect on their crops for many years. Even though many growers are losing a significant portion of their crops they refuse to become pessimistic about the situation and instead ensure the country that changes are to come but wine production will not die.

Growers explain that coastal areas of the state have a more successful growing trend than the interior of the state. The growing capacity of interior soil is expected to continue to decline as droughts similar to this one pillage the state more frequently. It is because of this prediction and adaptable nature of growers that the viticulture of California has a very good fighting change; even though the entirety of grapes within the state has been hit hard by the current drought growers are not giving up the fight.

By Courtney Heitter

News Week