Bill Swindell, PRESS DEMOCRAT
But the oversight comes as academic research is showing that less water is better for the grape crop, which was valued at $357 million in 2020 in Sonoma County. It can even improve grape quality. A UC Davis study released earlier this month found that grape growers in our region can use less water on vines without affecting crop yields or quality.
As local farmers well know, Mother Nature can be cruel in administering her gifts.
That was the case on the night of Sept. 11 when the crew over at Emeritus Vineyards in Sebastopol felt raindrops as they picked the pinot noir grapes to go into the winery’s premium wine.
While any rain is appreciated during an exceptional regional drought, the precipitation came an inopportune time for the winery that would wrap up its harvest just a week later, said Riggs Lokka, assistant vineyard manager.
“All of the sudden at 1:15 in the morning, it just dumped,” Lokka recalled.
The episode underscored the conditions vineyard managers are operating under: their industry is facing a prolonged era of water scarcity in which growers don’t want to put one more drop of water on their vines than needed.
Local agriculture’s water usage has come under increasing scrutiny. Three of Sonoma County’s 14 groundwater basins are subject to increased monitoring and regulation. Those areas are mandated to be sustainable within 20 years, which means to have no significant drop in water tables on a year-over-year basis. In addition, state regulators so far this year have ordered more than 1,800 water right holders in the Russian River watershed to stop water diversions unless they obtain waivers.