Another Drought Year in California

Over 90% of California is officially suffering from 'extreme drought'. at the beginning of a seven-month dry season. The implications for grapegrowers who rely on irrigation water and residents who face the threat of a third year of devastating wildfires are very worrying. Bulk wine producers elsewhere may benefit from California's woes, however..

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 (Image: NOAA Climate Prediction Center)
(Image: NOAA Climate Prediction Center)

California wine producers face another very difficult year climatically. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the three months until the end of June will be even drier than in recent years.

Brad Pugh, operational drought lead for NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland told the Mercury News in mid March that “Concern is quite high as we go into the spring and early summer,” said “The snowpack is below average for much of California, and there’s really very little time now to make up any precipitation deficits as we move into April.”

On March 15th, the NOAA US Drought Monitor, revealed that 93% of California was in “a severe drought”, with over a third - 35% - in “extreme drought”. These figures had risen from 87% and 13% respectively over the course of a single week. California’s vulnerability is illustrated by the fact that, even after rain and snow in October,before Christmas, four fifths of the state was declared to be in extreme drought. Fortunately storms brought some respite, but the current dry conditions are expected to last for seven months.

Two reservoirs, Lake Mead in Nevada and Lake Powell in Utah and Arizona on which Southern California largely relies, are lower than they have ever been, and farmers are threatened with reduced supply of irrigation water. Forest fires are another threat for Californians, for the third year in a row.

The obvious implications are that vineyards will need to be uprooted. In 2020, Jeff Bitter. president of  Allied Grape Growers told the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium that 30,000 acres - five percent of California’s 590,000 acres of vineyards – would have to go, because of excess production. With a lack of irrigation water, and the readiness of big companies to source cheap wine from outside the US (as described by Rob McMillan of SVB last week) the likelihood is that this figure may have been a modest underestimate. The decision by WBWE to launch a bulk wine trade fair in the US this year may be very timely.

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