Has the California Drought Burst Your Bubbles?

Have a glass of your favorite sparkling wine in hand? Good – savor every drop. Drought and Farming have never been a good word combination, and with California in the midst of one of the worst droughts in the century we should all do a little rain dance for our favorite wine growers and makers. Here’s the good news: the overseas market is so competitive that most wine makers and purveyors won’t be able to raise their prices much at all without the risk of losing customers.

The bad news? If crop yields continue to decline as the result of the drought, some of your favorite vineyards may go out of business. That’s not good for any of us, especially since the first ones to go are the smaller family-run and boutique vineyards that help to keep the wine industry exciting.

California Drought Shouldn’t Affect Your Bubbly Anytime Soon but a Little Rain Would be Nice

Here’s the reality – some vineyards are drying up, others are faring a little better. In an article on wine-searcher.com, Lake County vineyard owner and manager David Weiss said, “I’ve been growing grapes for 20 years, and we haven’t seen anything like this. If we don’t get significant rainfall between now and bud break, the vines are going to suffer.” Growing grapes requires quite a bit of water. In a drought year, the water table shrinks significantly and some wells will actually dry up, forcing grape growers to buy their water, an incredibly expensive endeavor and one that gets agitated neighbors and community members pointing fingers.

“Wine is a luxury, it’s not a necessity,” said Rosemary Bourgault in an interview with Bloomberg’s James Nash. “I love wine. I love the industry,” commented Bourgault, “but we need to protect our water sources, not abuse them. Water is priceless.” This sentiment is one that is shared by many of the residents that live in areas that produce wine grapes. While that opinion is understandable, it’s difficult for long-time family wine growers, many of whom have grown grapes for five generations or more, to hear that their livelihood isn’t worth fighting for or worthy of community support.

Most wine experts agree that although this current drought will come to an end, more dry seasons will be upon us. Climate change predictors show that while areas like Napa’s wine growing regions may dry up, the climate in other areas will become more ripe for growing grapes (pun intended), and that brings a huge sigh of relief for those of us who love to drink sparkling wines.

How Will the Drought Affect California Sparkling Wine Consumers?

So the question remains: “How will the current drought affect California’s sparkling wine industry and its consumers?” Nobody can be 100% sure of the answer, only time and future grape harvests will tell. But here’s what the experts are predicting:

  • For this year, all signs point to a good harvest and that bodes well for the consumer. The drought and the heat have caused the harvest to commence a couple weeks early, but most of the crop yields are still within a desirable range, albeit smaller than previous years.
  • Winemakers will get smarter and more creative with the ways they irrigate, or don’t, and where they choose to grow their grapes. This should still yield large enough grape harvets to ensure sparkling wine prices won’t be affected in the near future.
  • We may see some delicious sparkling wines as a result of the drought. Did you know that forcing vines to grow longer, stronger roots to access water at deeper soil levels often yields a more robust and flavorful grape? 2014 and 2015 may produce some surprising award-winning sparkling wines.

For now, most farmers and wine aficionados are trying to maintain a positive outlook. Hopefully, a combination of creative growing practices and improved weather conditions will get the industry back on track. In the meantime, toasting your glass to a nice rain storm or two wouldn’t be the worst idea. Cheers!