# Drought Busted
By: George Balling
Through all of the years we have owned the shop, written this column, and our time in the wine industry leading up to then we learned much about winemakers and water usage. We have written many times about how well they manage their use of water and what great stewards of the environment grape growers and winemakers alike are. Through all of the recent drought years especially in California the wine industry and all who work in it have been able to navigate the lack of water, and still produce great wine. It is not the first time they have gone through the boom and bust cycle of water in the Golden State, so they have become quite adept at dealing with it.
They know how to store the rain they get even in dry years. They have become masters at reusing every drop of “grey water” from the winery for irrigation and other uses. They just simply know how to do it. There are some years where the lack of rain has affected the grape crop. Most time it results in low yields from the vineyards. In some years though it has affected the flavor profile of the grapes too. 2014 Comes to mind when you had some wines that were very good and others that came out thin and astringent from the very challenging dry weather. In general though most every grape grower and winemaker alike will tell you they prefer lots of ward dry weather over a lot of rain once the grape bundles are set.
In years like 2017 and 2020 in Northern California the very dry conditions led to disasters come fall harvest time when fires started and the lack of water allowed the fires to spread unabated. Much of the crop was damaged in 2017, and in 2020 it was a near complete wipe out. It remains though that the growers and winemakers in California are pretty darn good at handling the lack of water.
This year though, the winter of 2022 – 2023 seems to have fixed water shortages nearly everywhere in California. There no doubt are some areas of the state that are still in drought status, but as far as the many wine grape growing areas around the state the drought is indeed busted. In addition to the national news coverage showing snow piled up to roof lines in the mountains of Northern and Southern California and rain swollen rivers in the valleys including those in Napa and Sonoma Counties we are hearing from many of our friends and colleagues that there is water aplenty.
When Justin Sidenfeld, the head of winemaking for Rodney Strong Vineyards, was here recently for events he shared with us the status of the drought in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County. He told us that the soil in the RRV was fully saturated. He further felt that no irrigation of the vines would be required at all during the 2023 growing season, with the possible exception of after the vines were fertilized. Keep in mind that this was before the most recent storms of last week rolled in off the Pacific!
We have seen videos from many friends in the wine business of rivers in wine country including the Russian moving swiftly with the breadth of the rivers appearing wider than anything we can recall from our time there. There have also been instances this winter where the roadways in the Carneros region of Southern Napa and Sonoma Counties have been closed from the flooding rains. Just this past week too we saw pictures of snow covering the peaks of the Mayacamas and other mountain ranges that surround the vineyards.
The challenge with California is this boom and bust cycle, it is entirely possible that we could follow this very wet and snow filled winter with another dry year next year. We do know that if that is indeed the case our resilient friends in the wine industry will again figure it out and continue to make great wine. Right now though we couldn’t be happier for our friends there as they enjoy not having to get overly creative and deal with severe restrictions on their water use. We also hope that now that the spigot has opened that the wine stops as we approach the crucial period of bud break and the flowering of the vines later this month and into April. If the rain stops in time, we could be looking at a very good vintage for 2023.