Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

California's winemakers gear up for worsening drought in 2015

Published:  06 November, 2014

Recent rainfall in California has done little to improve the ongoing drought, as winemakers gear up for worsening conditions into 2015.

California DroughtCalifornia DroughtCalifornia Drought

Recent rainfall in California has done little to improve the ongoing drought, as winemakers gear up for worsening conditions into 2015.

Should the drought continue as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association is predicting, conditions could get worse in 2015, with wine producers starting to see a serious impact on their vines. According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Centre, upcoming conditions are not encouraging.

NOAA said in statement last month: "While drought may improve in some portions of the US this winter, California's record-setting drought will likely persist or intensify in large parts of the state."

Despite the severe conditions, it is not clear whether the drought is significantly impacting wine production levels.

The drought, including warmer and drier conditions, brought 2014's wine harvest forward, making it one of the most advanced harvests in recent memory. Several major wine producers in California reported the harvest to be the earliest in over a decade, according to the Wine Institute.

"The 2014 vintage was by far the earliest start of any harvest I can recall," said Adam Mettler, director of winemaking for Michael David Winery in Lodi, California. 

"2014 will be noted as one of the earliest vintages in over a decade, but it will also go down as one of the best," said Renee Ary, winemaker at Duckhorn Vineyards in Napa Valley.

The executive director of Santa Barbara Vintners Morgen McLaughlin said: "This was actually quite a bountiful harvest for us. They producers were anticipating a drop in yield because the past two years have been such high yielding years. But some were actually caught off guard.  The producers had made early projections, but tank space become a an issue this past harvest."

However, the crop size does not seem to have been severely impacted by the drier conditions over the last two years. The 2013 harvest was the driest year on record since 1849 and yet produced a record-breaking crop. The 2014 harvest is forecasted to be an estimated 3.9 million tonnes, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Pacific Regional Crop Production Report of August 2014. That makes the 2014 harvest the third largest on record. Although it was down 8% on 2013, it is still larger than any pre-2012 harvest.

According to last month's Rabobank's report on total global wine production "the threat of ongoing drought is mitigating the perception of oversupply," as most wineries are sitting on healthy stock.

Drought conditions were at their worst in the summer when 100% of the state was suffering from either 'severe', 'extreme' or 'exceptional' drought.  Last week's numbers show that 95.04% of the state is still suffering from severe, extreme or exception drought.

California Drought

California Drought ConitnuesCalifornia Drought ConitnuesIn California, 95.04% of the state is still suffering from severe, extreme or exception drought.

The areas that are suffering from the most severe type of drought have remained unchanged. In July 58.41% of California was suffering from the worst 'exceptional' drought status. Last week's numbers have remained unchanged over the last three months.

The US Drought Monitor was established in 1999 and is a weekly map of drought conditions that is produced jointly by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US Department of Agriculture, and the National Drought Mitigation Centre at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Water has been on many minds this year, especially as it was brought to the fore by yesterday's election. Over the past two years, California has been suffering the worst drought in the state's history.

This week heralded US election day and in the preliminary results of the election, it appears Proposition 1, which is a water bond in California designed to help safeguard against future droughts, has passed. It won 67% of 'yes' votes in the 66.8% of precincts that have reported in so far.

Proposition 1 is a US$7.545 billion water bond that the Governor of California, Jerry Brown, said will help the state better prepare for future droughts.

In summary, according to the California voters guide,  Prop 1 "authorises $7.545 billion in general obligation bonds for state water supply infrastructure projects, including surface and groundwater storage, ecosystem and watershed protection and restoration, and drinking water protection".

The argument in favour of the proportion said: "Proposition 1 provides a reliable supply of water for farms, businesses and communities, especially during droughts. It supports economic growth and protects the environment. It is fiscally responsible, is guided by a comprehensive state water plan and does not raise taxes."

Those opposed to the ballot measure argued: "California can't afford Prop 1's misplaced spending. It does little to relieve the drought or improve regional water self-sufficiency. It threatens our rivers and streams. Private water users won't pay for these dams; taxpayers shouldn't either. "

Californians have approved several similar projects over the last several decades totalling $16 billion to address water management issues.

One of the big questions surrounding Prop 1 centred on a section of the proposition that allocates $2.7 billion for water storage projects.  Water storage projects come in many forms including the more traditional dams and reservoirs, but they also allow for an alternative for water management called 'underground banking.' Underground banking is the ability to store water below the surface during wet years.