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Are Urban Wineries Prepared for a Looming 2014 Drought?

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Undeniably, the rain gods have been miserly this year, sprinkling a paltry 3.95 inches of precipitation this year, an amount that invariably threatens the agriculture industry. And, over the dry, dusty expanse of the next few months, there is no apparent relief in sight. The dearth in rainfall is imminently poised to create a drought that rivals the infamous drought of the mid-1970s, and become the worst one in California history that could devastate parts of the California East Bay wine country.

For three successive years (following a drenching winter and spring of 2011), California has experienced a significant water shortage. This year’s snowfall has been minimal; none of it has contributed to the water diminishing (or nonexistent) surpluses contained in California’s reservoirs. Water transfers have been restricted within various regions. The dry season has exacerbated groundwater and aquifer storage issues that have already plagued an industry that could wither by the drought.

For the unprepared, the impact of the rainfall deficit can be unforgiving. And for the 2013 vintage, it can mean a greater cost for urban wineries in San Francisco and the East Bay that source from such AVAs as Napa, Sonoma, Contra Costa, Lake County, Lodi and the Sierra Foothills. Suffering crops and longer irrigation periods necessitates a price increases.

Vineyard and winery owners, however, have developed contingency plans to temper and adapt to unseasonably dry conditions. Some methods including early irrigation (especially for seasoned vineyard owners accustomed to long dry years) and pump maintenance, low-drip irrigation systems, dry farming (relying on local and individual water conservation efforts), creating on-farm ponds, and developing drought-resistant root-stocks and other SIP (Sustainability in Practice) methods of farming.

In many instances, it can positively affect grape production, as the vines works to find water, it may produce a lower yield grape, but one that is nonetheless exploding with concentrated flavor. Regardless, many vineyard owners, and crop growers throughout California, are hoping that a pending deluge will arrive, to slake the thirst of crops surviving another dry California year. And for those that relying on their instincts and prevailing knowledge to endure the dry year, the wine consumer is eagerly awaiting the outcome of the 2013 vintage.

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