Northern California vintners are already looking ahead to the next wine harvest and bracing for impacts as the drought deepens. Some will be hit much harder than others.
"Yield is going to be the major factor this year," says Domenick Bianco, who oversees growing operations for Renteria Vineyard Management, which farms about 1,300 acres in the Napa Valley. Sometimes smaller yields can produce very high-quality wines. Napa growers are aggressively pruning back vines, which will concentrate precious water and nutrients on a smaller number of grape clusters. But fewer grapes still mean lower profits. "We could see a dramatic reduction in yield, so it could have a very large economic impact," warns Bianco.
It's too early to tell what that impact will be. Napa County's grape harvest produced $656 million in 2012 -- that's just the grapes, not the wine. But the impact is almost sure to be worse in regions like the Anderson Valley and the Central Valley, which are more reliant on surface water.
Napa growers say the abundant groundwater that lies under the valley should cushion them from the kind of water crises unfolding in other winemaking regions, like Paso Robles and even Mendocino County. But they're not taking it lightly.