Thursday, October 30, 2014

The California Drought

California is the place a whole lot of us love to hate.  If it isn't Hollywood or Haight-Ashbury it's that smugly aloof "I'm-from-California" demeanor that just rubs this writer a hundred eighty degrees the wrong way.  Having lived out there for close to three years, I think I can truthfully say, I'd rather be in Georgia!

So now that I have that off my chest, let's get to the matter at hand.  The drought in California appears to be of the scale that could alter things there permanently.  For virtually all of the twentieth century, California has used water it didn't actually have.  Now that over-usage plus the drought plus global warming makes the future look downright bleak.  And it is...even though some forecasters see a righting of the ship if and when the drought breaks.  Eventually though, long term, global warming will alter things permanently (Blogpost 5/20/13).

The following few paragraphs on the drought are largely taken from USDA and University of California Davis publications.

The worst California drought on record dates back to 1849.  2014 is the worst year since then.  Because agriculture is so important to the California economy, much of the pain is being absorbed by urban areas where water restrictions are firmly in place.  I actually lived in California during a drought in the late seventies and the citizenry responded admirably without a mandate from government.  This drought though is, of course, much worse than that one with 17,000 jobs believed to have been lost across the state.  Those laid off employees from vulnerable businesses are the human toll represented in the current inflated poverty numbers.

Agriculture as a category includes both produce and dairy, not to mention the wine industry, and with limited water resources to draw from, major decisions have had to be made.  This year agricultural losses have been pegged at 203 million dollars.  If the drought doesn't break, next year could double that.  Planning now includes diverting water to high value crops like almonds, walnuts, and pomegranates, ceding the more staple crops to other states, which brings up a new realization for me.  California is the dairy capitol of the country but they actually have only 21% of the national business which tells me we are more diversified than I had realized.  Wisconsin, by the way, still leads in cheese.

Eighty-three percent of California's cattle are located in the eight counties that make up the San Joaquin Valley which are all Category 4 (extreme drought) areas.  Fifty-seven percent of livestock production is dairy and California's milk production is currently at record levels with prices maintaining at the retail level.  Because pastures will dry up without adequate irrigation, hay and alfalfa prices are expected to increase next year by as much as 40%.  Still, because dairy is so diversified nationwide, prices nationally are not anticipated to increase appreciably.

So what about wine?  Well, there's actually good news there for now.  Droughts are good for serious wine lovers.  They mean smaller berries with more concentrate juice to be fermented into wines with higher sugars and flavors concentrated proportionally to pulp and skin contact.  Moreover because the wine industry has been proactive with the installation of water efficiency technologies, groundwater levels may be spared through the drought.  Wine grapes are dought tolerant by nature so drier sunnier weather will ripen them sooner for an earlier harvest and faster production time.  The drought years of 2012-13 in Napa and Sonoma were rated 96 as a vintage by the Wine Advocate.

Please join us Friday October 31st for a tasting of fine red wines from Spain, Italy, California, and Chile.  And for gosh sakes, become a follower of this here blog!

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