Californian winemakers rejoice as drought ends

Imbibe Editorial

24 March 2017

On this side of the pond the rain is greeted with withering looks, tut-tuts and groans of 'not again' as the incessant downpours punctuate daily life.

But over in California recent rainfall has been greeted with enraptured happiness by winegrowers, who are behaving like prospectors that have struck oil.

The Golden State has become far too golden in the past five years and a brutal drought has threatened the entire future of Californian wine production.

Vineyards are back from the brink of disaster and suddenly the super bloom has cheered everyone up.

But then in early 2017 the rains came. And did not stop coming. Californians’ prayers were answered and a record-breaking deluge battered the state throughout January and February. Coastal regions have seen up to 200% the usual amount of rainfall, while the normally sun-drenched Los Angeles has resembled London.

The US Drought Monitor now shows that more than three-quarters of California is now totally free of drought. None of the state is facing extreme or exceptional drought, with moderate amounts in some areas.

The rain has worked its magic at the perfect time. The state’s $22 billion (£17.6 billion) wine industry was in grave danger. Yields were down and panic abounded. Parts of Mendocino County were running out of drinking water, let alone water for vineyard cultivation. Paso Robles passed an ordinance banning planting of new crops that needed irrigation. Wildfire destroyed vineyards in Napa and Sonoma. When you visited any winery in California, the conversation was always dominated by the drought. It still is, but the talk has become a lot more positive thanks to the miracle of rain.

It's a fantastic result for California wine in the UK, continuing three years of accelerating growth, Justin Knock MW

Vineyards are back from the brink of disaster and suddenly the super bloom has cheered everyone up. Eric Jensen of Booker Wine is Paso Robles said he is 'giddy like a kid at Christmas', Jeff Ames at Rudius in Napa Valley said it is the 'hardest rain he has seen since 2005' and Ron Rosenbrand at Spring Mountain in St Helena said it is a 'blessing'.

The Wine Institute of California can now plan for export growth and said sales to the UK market are up 5% in volume and 18% in value. 'It's a fantastic result for California wine in the UK, continuing three years of accelerating growth,' said director Justin Knock MW. 'There is a very clear trend towards premiumisation with 18% value growth and rising volumes of 5%. The conversation is increasingly about exceptional wine quality from California across both powerful and elegant styles. Volume shipped exceeded 13 million 9-litre cases to the UK, making it the top volume export destination for California wines globally.

'With the value of California exports to the UK now worth $337 million, the industry is on track to meet its target of $400 million in export sales by the end of the decade.'

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