Drought a Growing Concern in California Vineyards

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LODI-

California's drought is a major topic of discussion at the 21st annual Unified Wine and Grape Symposium running through Thursday at the Sacramento Convention Center.

"Unfortunately, with January now being the driest on record, we can only hope for some rain here in the near future," said Camron King, executive director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission. "It's going to be an absolute topic of conversation. But the wine industry has done phenomenal things in terms of sustainable water supply and very efficient use of water, both in irrigating vines as well as use in the wineries."

"I'm going to do everything I can to keep my vines alive," echoed Craig Ledbetter, vice president of sales for his family's grape growing business, Vino Farms.

Ledbetter said last year's Northern California wine grape crop benefited greatly from rain that fell in February and March.

"It came at the exact opportune time. When the vines woke up from dormancy, the profile was full. This year it's going to be different. If we get no more rain, when the vines come out of dormancy, the profile will not be full. You will see effect in crop."

Growers that have pre-1914 water rights will be the least affected, according to Ledbetter. They get to use the most water. Others could face a severe shortage.

"And just yesterday I received a notice from our civil water engineer that these curtailment notices are coming and they're going to come earlier than they came last year," Ledbetter said.

Last year, the water curtailment notices came in May and June.

Without more rain, the 2015 vintage could be a limited one.

"So I'm going to irrigate as much as I can with current rules that I have to live within," Ledbetter explained. "But I might have to really thin my crop down so the crop is not stressing out my vine to the point where it dies."

Ledbetter wishes the state would help growers by taking greater steps toward water conservation, desalination and storage.