Droughts Threaten California Wine

California vineyard

Droughts are never really a good thing. They threaten the viability of crops and potentially cripple agriculture, threaten to make the water running to your home—which you rely on to shower, water your lawn, and of course, drink to stay alive—at best, incredibly expensive, and at worst, nonexistent.

But the potential damage of droughts goes beyond that. As if threatening to damage the very foundation of society by interrupting food and water supplies—things we’ve no doubt you don’t need Vine Vera to remind you is essential to human life—weren’t enough, droughts also have a way of crippling access to some of the finer things in life.

To be more specific, the current drought in California has been threatening to devastate the production of Californian wines. You can’t make wine from dead grape vines, after all, and to keep the vines alive, wine makers have to adapt to unfavorable pruning schedules, which can greatly cut into production. If you consider the fact that the iconic Napa valley, in addition to several other wine regions and wineries scattered all over the state, is located in California, it’s easy to see why this development could be problematic for the wider world of wine, as it would deprive us of a selection of delectable wines—such as Californian vineyards’ take on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Pinot Noir, among others—that just so happen to be made within the state’s borders.

The Bad News
The main problem with the droughts isn’t that thousands of vineyards are now host to dead vines; winemakers are pretty good at keeping their plants alive. The problem, though, stems from the measures said winemakers have to resort to in order to keep their vines alive. With the current drought, vines have had to be cut sooner than usual, and on a shorter schedule, which means fewer grapes are harvested overall, and less wine made.

Many winemakers do have access to underground aquifers that can keep them in business for now, so there isn’t a massive wine shortage…yet. The main issue is that winemakers have two choices: they can use 100% of the water they normally would now, but risk running out of their reserve next year or the year after that (remember, we’re not sure just how long this drought may last) or cut back on water, and see a smaller yield as a result. Either way, the industry suffers, and we ultimately see less wine, either now or later.

The Good News
Wait, there’s good news? Actually, yes, there is. While it may be just a thin silver lining on rather big problem, it turns out that the drought actually has produced a positive effect on wine taste and complexity for some winemakers. Apparently, less water resulting in smaller grapes can mean the grapes will be more densely packed with sugar and more flavorful in general, producing a superior, more nuanced and rich wine.

However, the problem remains that winemakers won’t be able to make very much of this wine, even if it does taste better. Rather than some vineyards choosing to make a small quantity of a higher quality wine, most Californian vineyards are being forced to do so, and better taste or not, it does paint a grim image of the future of Californian wine, and we could see rising prices in response to less availability soon enough.


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