How Drought Affects Wine

Water and Wine

It’s no secret that California’s Central Coast is currently dealing with several years of consecutive drought conditions, which naturally leaves many wine lovers wondering how the lack of rainfall affects the taste and quality of wines from Paso Robles Wine Country. Many people don’t realize that grapevines love a spartan life and thrive in places where it’s difficult to grow. To understand this more fully, think about it in geographical terms—some of the world’s best wines come from regions where water is scarce and the roots of the vines need to go deeper into the soil in search of more water.

Drought affects wine in several ways, including:

Smaller Grapes: When vines receive less water, the grapes are smaller in size. This process makes for deeper flavors in the fruit because the fructose is more concentrated. Consequently, more water would have the opposite effect, diluting the concentration of sugars. So, theoretically, when the vines are forced to survive on less water, the wine will have more intensity in flavor.

Stress on the Vine: There are several factors that can put stress on the vines and drought is certainly at the top of the list. When water is scarce, the roots of the vines will go deeper into the soil seeking more water, a process that adds other flavors to the finished product.

In theory, the more wood that comes in contact with the soil, the more those flavors will impart themselves on the finished product. Similarly, the deeper the roots go into the soil, the more surface contact they will have with the microclimate and mixed nuances of the soil. This is where wines will typically pick up flavors of graphite, iron, and minerality.

Soil Matters: When it comes to wine, soil matters, not only in regard to the varietals, but also in the style of wines and the water needs of the vines. A major component of wine making is the wine maker’s understanding of the depth and size of the vine's root system and how much water the soil can hold. Typically, alluvial, or sandy soils, need more frequent irrigation than Calcareous clay soils (which has a higher moisture content and stays cooler).

While drought brings numerous challenges to a wine maker, less water can actually produce better wines. For a better wine tasting experience it’s important to remember that wine is an agricultural product and is influenced by numerous factors. Members of The Paso Robles Wine Club will enjoy tasting through a number of wines with more concentrated flavors over the coming months and with each bottle will come to understand more fully how the flavor of wine is crafted not only by the wine maker, but by Mother Nature herself.