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The Ever Changing Map of Drought

Long term drought

It’s a word that most wine drinkers think of, as a terrible thing for wine: drought.

But, in reality when I ask winemakers about drought, they shake their head.  For the first year of a drought, the vines hardly seem to notice.  In years two and three, the quality of the fruit grown actually increases as the vines cut production a bit.  Really, we’re trying to reach some level of vine stress to start, drought does that without growers and vintners having to try.  Many in fact, say that a 3 year drought is a very, very good thing for their business.  After all, it isn’t until much later that vines start making harder choices.

I saw an article on Cornell’s wine site (they’re one of a handful of Universities in America looking to expand their viticulture department, much the same that Calpoly San Luis Obispo built out their department a decade or so ago). It talked a bit about the current drought in New York’s Finger Lakes wine region and the implications.

Of course, in California we’re well aware of drought and it’s implications over the short and longer term.  Heck, I grew up in San Diego affectionately called a coastal desert.

We’re far from a drought here locally in the bay area though.  We’ve had a near Monsoon level of rain over this winter and much of California is officially out of drought already, or will be as the snow pack melts over the spring and summer (the Sierra snow pack by some accounts is 220% of its normal level, leaving California, at least Northern California, without much in the way of water concerns for 5+ years).

As mother nature would have it, the Finger Lakes now are concerned with drought. The Finger Lakes is in New York, so this was surprising to me at first, but then again, wine is generally grown in slightly warmer inland valley’s, next to large bodies of water….so drought is possible everywhere.

I’m sure everyone in the midwest and on the east coast is sick and tired of hearing about California’s drought, but if you’re a wine drinker we should think of drought as a common sidekick to the industry.  As it leaves one region, it’ll always find its way to another.

Lastly, from an online wine club perspective, do I pay attention to this type of stuff?  Perhaps surprisingly, yes.  There’s a very real combination of the early years of local drought and better wine.

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