California drought could cause problems for wine grape harvest


All wineries face their own unique challenges depending on where they grow their grapes and what type of irrigation system they use. But those Action News spoke with agree the drought could potentially hurt the size of the next harvest.

This cabernet sauvignon still has about nine months to go before being bottled, and while it soaks up the oak, Cru Wine Company is busy preparing for its next big crush. Cru grows its grapes across the Central Coast and Sierra foothills and says 2013 was a good year.

"Last year's harvest was a really nice harvest actually for us -- didn't see a whole lot of stress in the vines, very good fruit, very productive," said Cru winemaker Ken Post.

In fact, the California Department of Food and Agriculture says last year's crop set a new record at more than 4.2 million tons, thanks to expanded acreage and overall favorable weather. But that may not be the case this year because of the drought.

"It's definitely affecting the vines; you can see the stress on the vines, and if we're not able to irrigate those, you're going to see continued stress on the vine," said Post.

A little further south on the Madera Wine Trail, Ficklin Vineyards grows 36 acres of Portuguese grapes for its historic port. These gnarly vines were planted back in 1945 and rely on well water and allocations from the Madera Irrigation District.

"You look at things, the water table drops, it costs more money to pump the water out of the ground, so water is becoming more expensive and harder to get," said Peter Ficklin, president and consulting winemaker of Ficklin Vineyards.

Peter Ficklin says the unusually warm weather this year also has the buds starting to swell, which could be a problem if colder temperatures suddenly return.

"Frost is always a concern. With the drier weather, there's always that chance, and so water is important because it's the first line of defense," said Ficklin.

But both winemakers say this is all part of the business they love.

"We're subject to the whims of Mother Nature," said Ficklin.

Some wine brokers say the big crops from the last two years should mean plenty of bargain bottles on store shelves. But the winemaker at Cru says prices at that and other small local wineries tend to stay more consistent.

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