California Winemakers Brace for Drought Impacts
Northern California vintners are already looking ahead to the next wine harvest and bracing for impacts as the drought deepens. Some will be hit much harder than others.
‘We could see a dramatic reduction in yield, so it could have a very large economic impact.’
Napa growers say the abundant groundwater that lies under the valley should cushion them from the kind of water crises unfolding in other winemaking regions, like Paso Robles and even Mendocino County. But they’re not taking it lightly.
“In my opinion it’s very serious,” says Hal Huffsmith, senior vice president at the Trincharo Family Estates unit of Sutter Home Winery. “Groundwater is a crutch at this point.” It’s also expensive to pump out, which further squeezes margins for growers.
“Our fields are not up to capacity. There’s not excess water in the ground for our vines to feed on,” Huffsmith explains. “It could be a very significant and serious problem going forward, as we’re not able to compensate effectively the loss of winter rainfall.”
So far that rainfall is looking pretty pathetic. Huffsmith says the region has logged about two inches, whereas area vintners would normally expect ten times that amount. Growers say there is still time for substantial rain to fall before the fruit emerges, though there is little in the forecast. The lack of rain could leave vines more vulnerable to damaging insects, and there’ll be less water to ward off frost, if there are more cold snaps this winter. Growers who count on draws from the Napa River for frost protection have been told that river water won’t be available this year.