Local wineries prepare for another year of drought

Apr 28, 2021

Droughts are nothing new in California, so many wineries have adopted new methods and technologies to prepare for what has already been a very dry year.

Gary Eberle is the owner of Paso Robles’ Eberle Winery. He said the vineyard uses its own irrigation systems and new technologies, like overhead trough protection for the grapes.

Eberle said extra irrigation is common in California vineyards, since you can’t just count on the rain.

“Without additional water, it is almost impossible to get a crop; it’s almost impossible to keep the vines alive,” Eberle said.

The winery has also cut the amount of water they use to grow grapes by more than two acre-feet, or over 650,000 gallons.

“I think a lot of people think that in the wine industry and the grape industry, that we are wasteful and it’s just the opposite,” Eberle said. “We use the least we can.”

The most common grape vine in California is called Vitis vinifera. It is native to the Meditterranean region and requires less water than crops like avocados and almonds, according to Cal Poly enology professor Frederico Casassa, who says too little water can alter the taste of the wine.

“Usually drought conditions result in grapes that are much more concentrated,” Casassa said. “They are also more concentrated in sugars; this typically results in higher alcohol wines.”

Casassa said new methods and technologies, like those used at Eberle Winery, are constantly emerging to allow vineyards to continue to produce wine.

The question, Casassa said, is whether or not they are worth a vineyard's resources.

“Probably it’s not the most sustainable decision ever, but once again, there is a tension between what sustainability asks and the market — and that tension, sadly, will always be run over by the market,” Casassa said.

California is currently in its second year of drought. According to the National Integrated Drought Information System, San Luis Obispo County, Monterey County, and northern Santa Barbara County are facing moderate drought and southern Santa Barbara and Ventura County are both facing severe drought.