Bay Area Winemakers Say Another Year Without Rain Would Be “Devastating”

Winemaker Dan Naumann paced along his vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains, ignoring the vast startling views of Silicon Valley below - eyes fixed on his grape leaves. He gingerly extended a branch of one vine, pointing out the crimson leaves.

"This is what drought will do to you," Naumann said brushing the leaves. "Eventually they’ll crinkle up on you."

Like everyone in agriculture, Naumann is nervous. Another winter with little rain has taken its toll on those who depend on nature’s irrigation. [[269295341, L]] As a "dry farmer" in unincorporated Cupertino, Naumann’s irrigation is supplied 100 percent by Mother Nature.

"The most important thing we need is the soothing sound of raindrops during the winter," he said.

Like many Bay Area winemakers, Naumann expects to make it through this year with a decent harvest and quality wines. Next year, he’s not so sure. While this year has been a tough one for agriculture, another year without rain could be devastating.

"We would drop one third of the fruit," Naumann said. "That’s what we’re anticipating next year if we get minimal amount of rain."

Naumann expected the rest of the Bay Area wine industry to make similar cuts to its fruit crops if it doesn’t get the rain it needs. He said that could drive prices up 20 to 30 percent.

Just past downtown Livermore, where browning lawns are now more common than green ones, winemaker Jim McGrail surveyed his sprawling vines with the look of a man before a firing squad.

"If you don’t get water," McGrail said, "these grapes die, the fruit dies, we as a community die."

McGrail only lays only some of the blame with nature, the rest he’s reserved for state leaders who he said need to come up with a better system for storing rain during wet years.

"We put people on the moon,” he said. “We do heart transplants and there’s absolutely no reason we don’t have water.”

Naumann produces about 700 cases of merlot and cabernet sauvignon a year - and considers himself a boutique winemaker. But from his hilltop perch overlooking the valley, Naumann strangely seemed to be looking up.

"We’ll make it through," he said. "Eventually Mother Nature will get us our rain back."

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