How Does a Drought Impact California wine?

California's last twelve months have been the driest in a century. Sonoma County, where Ram's Gate Winery calls home, is one of several counties to be declared in a drought emergency in 2021. We've talked before about how fires affect California wine (specifically the smoke taint in grapes that can make wine undrinkable). Fires are more common as the state continues to become drier. But how else can drought impact California wine?

Can stress be a good thing?

While many contend that some water stress can be good for grapes, these prolonged droughts can have more consequential ramifications. A small amount of water stress may help grapes become sweeter by concentrating flavors. But drought stunts the growth of the shoots and vines, and, ultimately, leads to lighter yields. This decrease in tonnage from vineyards directly impacts supply which leads to a comparative wine scarcity when it's time for those vintages to come onto the market.

As compared to other crops, grapes aren't nearly as water-intensive. But grapes are still susceptible to drought conditions. Sustainability initiatives at Ram's Gate Winery are pushing us to be better stewards of the water we do get, not just for the grapes themselves but for the ecosystem as a whole.

There is a school of thought that over the long run, drier conditions will actually improve the quality of wines. The vines themselves will grow deeper, more expansive root networks as they search for groundwater. The skins of the grapes will thicken and the flavor and sweetness will concentrate. Some vignerons and viticulturists have been practicing dry farming for a while now and have been met with good results. But even these growers admit that the short-term effects are problematic.

So, with the 2020 wildfires and the 2021 drought conditions, you may see fewer of these vintages available than you might normally expect. Wineries may compensate by bringing older vintages to market sooner than they would have otherwise. Fortunately, we have plenty of excellent wines for your enjoyment! Check out one of our best bottles of 2020, like our 2020 Rosé, Sonoma Coast (92 points, Wine Enthusiast), or another of our critically-acclaimed wines like 2018 Pinot Noir, Ram’s Gate Estate (95+ points, Jeb Dunnuck). Or, join us for a wine tasting and explore the nuances between vintages.