The Effects of the Drought on Harvest 2015

Enjoy the Stars of Harvest 2105 with a membership to The Paso Robles Wine Club
In Paso Robles Wine Country and all over California’s Central Coast, people are eagerly waiting for the winter rains to begin in earnest. Weather forecasters are predicting a very wet rainy season for California and just about everyone has their fingers crossed that El Niño will provide us with some much needed relief—and moisture—after 4 long years of drought.

Grapevines love a Spartan life and can easily thrive in difficult growing situations. After all, 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. But, after several years of minimal moisture, even robust vines can begin to weaken and become more prone to diseases, such as leaf roll and red blotch. Additionally, the soil can quickly become potassium deficient, throwing the vineyard team’s focus onto triage and strategic planning.

Drought affects wine in many ways, including:

Smaller GrapesWhen 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 VineThere 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).

So, what are the effects of the drought on Harvest 2015?

Smaller Yield: Winemakers throughout Paso Robles Wine Country have reported a substantially smaller yield in 2015 and for some vineyards, the yield is down by as much as 50%.

Differences in Fruit: With less moisture, overall cooler temperatures, and an unusual spate of summer rain, some winemakers have noticed differences in the coloring of the fruit and some have even described the variances of hues as ‘impressive’.

What these factors point to is more concentration in flavor and as long as sugar development has been adequately controlled, even with lower yields, we could enjoy some great wines from this harvest. Wines to anticipate--Mouvẻdre and Grenache—both predicted to be stars of the 2015 Harvest.

Over the coming months, members of The Paso Robles Wine Club will enjoy tasting through a number of wines with more concentrated flavors and with each bottle they will come to more fully understand how the flavor of wine is crafted not only by the artistry of the winemaker, but by Mother Nature herself.