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UC Davis Looks For Good Grapes And Ways To Save Water

Undergrad Joseph Belsky shovels grapes out of a container at the U.C. Davis winery.


Consistently warm temperatures and a lack of rain have caused an early harvest of grapes in California. At the campus vineyard at UC Davis, students have picked the first grapes of the harvest.  For the next several weeks, they will crush the grapes into juice and send the liquid into tanks to begin the fermentation process.

Chik Brenneman is the school's Wine Maker and Winery Manager for the Department of Viticulture and Enology.

He says rain came at the perfect time in March and April and the fruit and wine should be fine, but a lack of water since has put a strain on the vines.

"Our vineyards are showing water stress -reddening of the leaves, desiccation, the soil is very, very hard.  We're going to be looking at campus vineyards ways to try to loosen up the soil a little bit.  If the drought continues, it's going to be tough for growers."

Growers throughout the state have used ground water or stored water purchased in previous years to get through the growing season, but are unsure where the water will come from next year.

Brenneman says this year's fruit and wines should be fine.  But, he is concerned about the amount of water available next year.

"The aquifers are definitely draining. They're actually deepening. We're having difficulty actually watering our fields just because of the availability of water."
Brenneman says the wine-making operation has reduced its water consumption by 25 percent.

Anita Oberholster is with the U-C Davis Cooperative Extension. She says the school is studying the effects of watering vines with different kinds of waste water left over from the wine-making process.

"In the old days we had a lot of sodium-based cleaning products. Now, a lot of wineries have moved to potassium-based because it has a smaller impact on the environment and potassium also has a smaller impact on the vines.  They can probably handle a lot of potassium much better than a lot of sodium."

The school grows and processes as much as 100 tons of grapes every year. Half is used to make wine. The other half is used for classroom study and experiments.

Bob Moffitt

Sacramento Region Reporter

Bob is the Sacramento Region Reporter. He has been at the forefront of the coverage of the Sacramento Kings' saga and the effort to build a new arena in Sacramento. He also covers education, business, environment, and sports stories.   Read Full Bio