Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.
We’re sure that Italian wine producers often feel like this when growing their crops. We live in a world that is over 70% water and yet the constant threat of drought creates massive problems for wine production. Sadly, the saltwater in Earth’s vast oceans and seas can’t be used to really sustain plants, leaving producers to rely on rain and complex irrigation systems to keep their crops fed.
But what happens when there is a water crisis?
A lack of water has a serious effect on many aspects of the wine industry. In this article, we explore what those effects are and highlight some recent examples of how droughts have affected producers all over the world.
The Effect of Drought During the Main Growing Periods
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first:
Vines are plants.
Plants need water to survive.
Without it, plants wither and die.
This is all grade school science that we all learn at a very early age. Every plant has a root system that it uses to absorb moisture from the soil. But plants rely on rain to saturate the soil with that moisture. Or, they rely on human intervention to water plants when the rain isn’t coming.
It’s obvious to see the effects a water crisis can have during the grape growing season.
Let’s say there are a few weeks of drought during the height of summer. This creates several problems for wine producers to deal with. First, drought tends to occur during particularly warm periods. That means the producer has to find ways to protect their plants against sunburn and other issues related to constant sun exposure without the nourishing water needed to replenish the plant.
Then, there are the direct effects on the plant themselves.
If vines aren’t getting enough water, they don’t have what they need to nourish the grapes that grow on them. The results can be catastrophic. In the worst-case scenario, the vine simply withers up to the point where it either doesn’t grow grapes at all, or the grapes that it does grow are so measly and weak that they couldn’t possibly be used to create an Italian wine.
Assuming the water crisis isn’t quite that bad, there are still yield issues to worry about. If a vine only has limited access to water, many of the grapes growing on it simply can’t get enough. As a result, the vine prioritises the grapes that are already growing strong, leaving the rest to wither. That’s a problem for producers that rely on volume as much as quality, such as the many producers who create table wines. Fewer grapes to work with means less wine produced, which has a serious effect on profitability. In some cases, a water crisis can lead to a producer going out of business because they simply can’t sustain their company when their vines are incapable of producing the number of grapes they need.
The Odd Positive Side Effect
Strangely enough, a water crisis affecting yields can have a strangely positive effect for producers that are more selective with their grapes.
If the vine can only nourish a certain number of grapes, it will dedicate all of its resources to the strongest ones. That means any water it does receive gets funnelled into a small number of grapes, leading to those grapes being of exceptional quality. For producers who focus on making fine wines, this process can actually help with grape production because it becomes more obvious which grapes are strong and which are weak.
But there’s a fine balance here.
Limited water can work in a producer’s favour. But no water at all can lead to even the strongest grapes eventually losing their qualities. What’s more, a water crisis can also wreak havoc with the harvesting period. Grapes may mature at a slower rate, leading to the producer having to take great care to pick them at the appropriate times. Poor timing can lead to the grape losing its quality or simply becoming oversaturated if an extended dry spell is followed by a lot of rain.
Recent Examples of Water Crises
The most obvious example of drought causing issues with wine production can be seen in the Italian wine industry right now. Many producers have had to deal with extended dry spells, leading to their grapes maturing more slowly or, in some cases, yields decreasing due to the lack of water. This issue doesn’t affect all Italian producers equally. Some areas experience more rain than others, particularly those regions that are near mountains. The snow from the mountains evaporates and turns to rain, helping nearby producers in the process.
Of course, what’s happening in Italy right now is far from the only example of drought affecting producers.
Many don’t realise that South Africa has a thriving wine industry. In 2018, a water shortage in Cape Town caused serious issues for the region’s vineyards, leading to a lack of the water needed for irrigation. That was a serious problem for producers in the area. Despite producing some of the world’s most popular wines, South Africa’s wine industry runs on very thin margins. Some analysts state that the country’s industry only generates a 1% profit despite its position as the seventh largest wine industry in the world. Drought in this situation leads to lower yields, potentially eating away at that tiny profitability in the process.
The Final Word
Water is vital for the wine industry.
That much is a given. However, many people underappreciate just how damaging a water crisis can be. Vineyards are vast and manual watering is incredibly difficult and time-consuming. Without plentiful rain coming at the right times, yields are negatively impacted and harvesting routines are disrupted. And though there may be some small benefits for producers that expect low yields, those that rely on an abundance of healthy crops are often seriously damaged by drought.
Nevertheless, Xtrawine always makes an effort to ensure you always have access to the wines you want. Browse our collection today and we’re sure you’ll find something to stock your shelves with.
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