Russian River Grape Growers Face a Year With Much Less Water

Grapevines don’t need as much water as many other plants in order to produce fruit.

In fact, in the Tasting Notes we write for the selections featured by the wine clubs of Vinesse, we often talk about how “stressed vines” — i.e., those that haven’t received an abundance of water — produce grapes that are more concentrated in aroma and flavor. It’s a trade-off; in such cases, winemakers get less fruit with which to work, but that fruit typically is of exceptional quality.

Grapevines can be stressed either “naturally” (left to the whims of Mother Nature) or via technology (through carefully managed drip irrigation systems). Often, growers use a combination of both, increasing the irrigation when the rains don’t come.

But as the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported yesterday, growers within Sonoma County’s Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation Improvement District are not being given a choice in how to handle the ongoing drought conditions in California. In order to keep the water level as high as possible in Lake Mendocino, farmers — as well as businesses and residents — are going to have to deal with a 50 percent cutback on water from that lake.

You read that correctly: They’ll have access to only half as much water from Lake Mendocino as they normally do.

What does that mean as far as the 2014 winegrape growing season is concerned?

Well, it could mean a lot… it could mean a little… or it could mean nothing.

If the drought continues (as is expected) and little rainfall is registered, vintners tell me the crop size could be much lower than normal. If at least some rain comes, that would help minimize the impact. And if the drought were to suddenly end — not likely — then a “normal” grape harvest could be expected.

As always, the ultimate fate of the 2014 harvest — in the Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California, elsewhere around the United States and around the world — comes right back to Mother Nature.

She is one powerful lady, as grape growers and winemakers know all too well.

Posted in The Wine Business
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