California’s Drought & Wine Country

A close-up of damaged grape vines in Michael Vandborg’s drought stricken vineyard in the Lamont farming community in southeastern Joaquin Valley in Kern County, CA on Feb. 26, 2014. USDA photo by David Kosling.

It’s the middle of March, and Californians from San Francisco to San Diego are enjoying glorious amounts of weather worthy of a coastline cruise in a convertible.  Rosé weather during Thanksgiving weekend?  Yes!  Beach day in December?  That’s right.  Our warm weather induces eye-rolls from our friends out East, who have been literally buried under record-breaking amounts of snow until recently. But the sunshine comes with a price – California is entering our 4th year of drought, the worst we’ve had in over a century, causing havoc and economic hardship in the agriculture sector.

The drought has given winemakers all over California some cause for concern, due to the potential damage that the lack of water can cause to the vines, should the vines dry up completely.  Last year, vineyard owners had to prune and harvest sooner than usual, as the grapes ripened faster due to the copious amount of sun they were receiving.  Many vintners have turned to dry-farming, in the face of a growing water shortage, but some say this changes the character and taste of the grape dramatically.  And, less water used can mean less yield from the vines, in turn decreasing overall wine production.  Wine shortage, people.  It could happen.

The silver lining in all of this?  The 2014 vintage could turn out to be a spectacular one.  Grapes are fairly drought resistant, and the stress of getting less water means smaller berries with more concentrated sugar & flavors.  This may mean higher quality wine with greater aging possibility.  Vintages during drought years, such as 2012 and 2013, garnered better rankings in publications such as Wine Advocate, than rainier years like 2011.  What do you predict for the 2014 vintage, and 2015 harvest?  Share your thoughts in our comments section.

Here are a few Vinfolio selections from drought years 2012 & 2013:

2013 Aubert – Chardonnay Eastside Vineyard  (98-100 pts, Wine Advocate)

2012 Schrader – Cabernet Sauvignon (LPB) Las Piedras Vineyard (96-98 pts, Wine Advocate)

2012 Orin Swift – Papillon (93 points, Wine Advocate)

2012 Arietta – H Block Hudson Vineyard (92-94 pts, International Wine Cellar)