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UC Davis Winery Not Immune To Drought Impacts

Ed Joyce/Capital Public Radio News

Chik Brenneman, in a section of the 15-acre UC Davis vineyard he manages. The winery is in the background.

Ed Joyce/Capital Public Radio News

UC Davis students in the viticulture and enology program have been getting a first-hand look at how drought impacts wine grape growing. 

"Our vineyards are suffering somewhat, after three years of drought," said Charles "Chik" Brenneman, who has managed the vineyard and winery for UC Davis the past nine years. "Our water deliveries were curtailed." 

Brenneman said the vineyard water supply comes from the Solano Irrigation District and campus wells. Despite its teaching focus, the vineyard has the same concerns and issues with water supply as commercial grape growers.   

The 15-acre vineyard is divided into blocks of vines that students manage. One portion of the vineyard, about 250 vines, is dedicated to "dry farming." 

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The teaching vineyard at UC Davis. Ed Joyce/Capital Public Radio News

"Dry farming is what the settlers who came to California did in the late-1800s since there was no drip irrigation system," explained Brenneman. "The concept here is to create an environment in which the grape vine would like to seek out the water - the water is below someplace."

He said that the soil is tilled to drive the roots deep to find the water. Brenneman said last year, the dry farming block actually produced better than the rest of the vineyard. He said after three years of drought, the vines in the dry farming block are "in better shape" than the vines grown using drip irrigation. 

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Tanks store rainwater collected from the roofs of UC Davis winery buildings. The tanks are part of the LEED Platinum winery facility. Ed Joyce/Capital Public Radio News

The UC Davis academic calendar isn't timed with the grape harvest, said Brenneman. 

"We have to farm the vineyard with water because of the academic schedule," he said. "We need to hold these vines as viable as we can into the second and third week of September. And that's all part of the teaching program." 

Brenneman said managing water during the drought for the vineyard has also provided additional teaching opportunities for students in the program.  

"Winemaking, water ... we're educating our students in a way that they see the big picture," said Brenneman. "It's not just winemaking but the impact on our environment." 

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Chik Brenneman stands next to a row of high-tech fermentation systems he calls ‘R2-D2’ which are inside the UC Davis winery and adjacent to the teaching vineyard. Ed Joyce/Capital Public Radio News