Wine Buzz: Fearing drought, staying hopeful

03/13/2013 12:00 AM

01/14/2014 6:57 PM

The dreaded "D" word has the California wine industry on edge. We're talking about "drought," given that January and February were deemed the driest on record in the northern Sierra Nevada, the heart of water supplies for California farmers.

While rain and snow totals are well ahead of last season's overall numbers, the past two months have hit hard. These challenging conditions are thus far a turn from the stellar 2012 growing season, which resulted in a state- record crop boasting 3.89 million tons of crushed wine grapes. Farmers and wine industry observers are staying hopeful for a good soaking this spring.

"Many of our significant rain events came in March and April (last year), and we still have real potential for that," said Camron King, executive director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission. "From what I'm hearing, people are cautiously optimistic that we'll be getting more rain soon. Since we had such a good water year last year, I don't think the concerns are as large."

The growing season is still fairly early in Lodi, which is home to more than 100,000 acres of winegrapes hosting 70 to 80 varietals. Lodi is also home to more than 80 bonded wineries.

Bud break is barely under way, which marks the beginnings of grapes' growth cycle on the vine. While significant rainfall would be welcome now, any drenching of vineyards during the fall harvest season would cause mildew concerns.

We'll stay tuned to see if Mother Nature is in the mood for soaking wine country this spring, or feels more like giving everyone a sun bath.

"It's not the first time people have had to deal with this," said King. "But the reality is we may need to be addressing our water usage throughout the course of the year." Call The Bee's Chris Macias (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.

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