Agriculture around the world is suffering due to climate change, and famous grape-producing regions are being crushed by unpredictable weather patterns, drought, and increased global demand for alcohol. California’s Napa Valley in particular is suffering from the state’s severe lack of rainfall, and vineyard owners are already predicting a much smaller harvest for 2014.

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While other US vineyards (such as those in Vermont) have found climate change working towards their advantage, Napa Valley could be on the edge of a decline – and the $50 billion industry sustains nearly 300,000 jobs, according to the Napa Valley Vintner’s Association. The region normally shares characteristics of both coastal and interior climates, but shifting temperatures and an absence of rain have made conditions dire. Napa receives all of its water from precipitation that replenishes rivers and underground aquifers. The valley typically sees 30 inches of annual rainfall, but they’ll be lucky to pull in 8 inches this year. Vineyards with access to aquifers are still able to function for the time being, but the long-term future of the market remains uncertain.

Grapes are perennial plants, meaning that it takes a full two years for the fruit to develop. This timetable makes it hard to predict how drought will affect bud development and maturity. Continual drought could even damage the entire vine and open the doors for diseases and pests to invade.

For the time being, vintners are encouraged to voluntarily monitor and conserve their water, and the county is planning to construct a pipeline to carry recycled water to particularly hard-hit areas. Meanwhile, experts suggest that vintners cut down on their number of plants in order to maintain quality and the prestige associated with the valley’s name. To hedge their bets, many are signing up for crop insurance while they wait for rain.

Via Salon and E&E Publishing

Images via Wikicommons user Sanjay ach and John Morgan