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Drought damages vines as California goes thirsty 

Bloomberg News Reports

vineyard droughtRobert Nadeau, who produces “huge” Zinfandel wines near Paso Robles, California, said he sensed trouble when reddish silt started coming out of his faucets last year. Then, in August, nothing came out.

Nadeau has lived through three dry periods since he began farming six acres in the hills about 206 miles (332 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles in 1995. Last year was worse than any of them, he said. This year, with precipitation at one-sixth its seasonal average, promises to be even tougher for winegrowers in the area Wine Enthusiast magazine called Wine Region of the Year for 2013.

The drought has some residents questioning wineries’ water consumption and has forced growers to abandon vines. It prompted a campaign for a municipal water district to free farmers and homeowners from dependence on fickle weather patterns and dwindling groundwater, and it has growers in rural areas digging new wells in search of a reliable supply.

“There’s a lot of aggravation, frustration and fear in the area with neighbors pointing fingers over water use,” Nadeau, who has lived near Paso Robles since the 1970s, said in an interview. “This is a function of survival. One or two inches a year, the fourth year in a row. Our vines are struggling horribly.”

Almost 92 percent of California, including the Paso Robles winemaking region and parts of the Napa Valley, was experiencing severe, extreme or exceptional drought as of Feb. 11, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a federal website. Paso Robles accounted for about 5 percent, or 26,000 vineyard acres, of the 546,000 acres of wine grapes in California in 2012, according to the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Dry conditions are likely to reduce grape production at Paso Robles vineyards by as much as 25 percent, as growers leave some vines to fend for themselves and almost every vine bears less fruit, four growers said in interviews on their properties.

Winemakers won’t be able to pass along many additional costs or lost profits to consumers because of competition from winemakers overseas and other parts of the U.S., said Jason Haas, managing partner of the Tablas Creek Vineyard near Paso Robles.

In 2012, the vines crisscrossing the sandy, rock-strewn hills near the now-dry Tablas Creek yielded 3.4 tons of fruit per acre, Haas said. Last year, with rain below seasonal norms, Haas harvested 2.6 tons per acre. That could drop to as little as 2 tons per acre this year, he said.

Since July 1, 2013, Paso Robles has received 1.41 inches of rain, compared with the seasonal average of 8.34 inches, according to the National Weather Service. Farther north, Napa has received 5.64 inches since July, the weather service said.

Read the complete story at Bloomberg News


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About the author: Publisher Scott Brennan

Scott Brennan is the publisher of this newspaper and founder of Access Publishing. Follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn, or follow his blog.