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California Wineries Confront Historic Drought, Reports Wine Spectator

January 22, 2014

Winemaker Elias Fernandez saw something in January that he’d never seen before in three decades: the bottom of the reservoirs at Shafer Vineyards in Napa Valley.

He isn’t the only Californian seeing water turn to sand and dirt. Wine Spectator reports that the state is suffering from a frightening drought. Already, 2013 was the driest year on record, and 2014 has brought no relief. A large high-pressure system, stretching from Mexico to Oregon, has parked itself off the coast, diverting any rain north into Canada and Alaska (and helping create the polar vortex conditions that froze much of the rest of the United States recently).

Winter months are crucial to California’s complex water system—snow normally builds up in the Sierra Nevada mountains during cold months, then melts and provides water for 25 million people and a $45 billion farming sector, including thousands of vineyards. Since Gov. Jerry Brown officially declared a drought January 17, there’s been widespread fear that statewide water rationing will be implemented on residences and businesses. Some cities have already imposed restrictions.

No one in California’s wine industry is panicking just yet, but vintners are definitely nervous. Some of the growing regions in Napa Valley got less rain than Las Vegas in 2013. Paso Robles, on the California Central Coast, received 1.92 inches of rain instead of the average 12.78 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

“I was driving around Paso Robles a few weeks ago and it looked like a desert,” Tegan Passalacqua of Turley Wine Cellars said. Justin Smith of Saxum, another Paso winery, agreed. “I’ve never seen a December, let alone a January, where the hills aren’t covered with a beautiful green cover crop,” said Smith. For more on this story, click here.

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