Drought threatening Bay Area wine industry

Grape growers in California are facing serious challenges and are taking big steps already to avoid a disastrous year.
January 28, 2014 7:02:57 PM PST
California's drought is threatening a major industry in the state -- one that's particularly important to the Bay Area. Grape growers are facing serious challenges and they're already taking big steps to avoid a disastrous year.

There is no beating around the bush when discussing the impact the drought is having in Napa. "2013 was the driest year on record. It was the driest winter on record," Jennifer Kopp Putnam with the Napa Valley Grapegrowers Association told ABC7 News. According to association, from July 1 to January 31, rainfall levels in Napa tend to be close to 15 inches. Currently, they are at 2.9 inches.

With no rain, there is hardly any cover crop -- the mustard and other grasses that grow in between the rows. "The higher it grows, the more nutrients you're going to put back into the vineyard," vineyard manager Domenick Bianco explained.

The warmer temperatures have also caused the buds to come out early. This usually happens in late February or early March. And it makes the crops vulnerable to the frost. "Out here, we do not have any frost protection. So, a long frost season could spell disaster," Bianco said.

While the wells are in good shape, the reservoirs found on some estates are low. Growers are assessing how much water they have and how much they'll need. Some growers will have to set their irrigation systems to cover small zones -- not the entire vineyard.

If there is no significant rainfall in the next month, growers will have to begin thinning out their vines. "We'll reduce the amount of foliage. We'll limit the crop. We'll go down to one cluster per shoot," said Hal Huffsmith at the Trinchero Family Vineyard.

A smaller yield would have an impact on wine prices. But even in this situation, growers are staying optimistic. "We've got some months ahead. We're not finished with our water months yet and if we saw another 6 to 8 inches, we'd be in great shape for the year," said Kopp Putnam.

The Napa Valley Grapegrowers Association represents 670 vineyard owners in the area.


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