Water shortages plague a vast area of the West, including Washington, where Gov. Jay Inslee last month declared a statewide drought emergency. But grapes require far less water than other crops. And the problem runs much deeper in California, where the drought, exacerbated by climate change, has entered its fourth year and farmers, including some in wine-producing areas in central California, are dealing with cuts of 25 percent or more in their water allotments.
In Washington’s Yakima valley, apples have long reigned supreme — but since the wholesome, all-American fruit needs twice as much water as a wine grape, the state’s orchards are ceding territory to Bacchus’s crop of choice:
“All this used to be apples,” said Dick Boushey, gesturing out from the front of his house a half-hour south of Yakima, where a brown, tilled field of 24 acres was cleared of apple trees last winter. Mr. Boushey’s team was planting new cabernet sauvignon vines over the Memorial Day weekend, and when that final former apple field … goes to grapes, his transition from apple farmer to wine-grape grower will be complete. …
Since 2010, wine-grape acreage in Washington has increased by 22 percent, according to state figures, to about 50,000 acres. At the same time, acreage for many other historically important crops — from potatoes to wheat — has been flat or in decline.
While times get harder — and dryer — for Napa’s famous vineyards, Washington vintners can put their feet up and enjoy some home-grown Sauvignon. Water security, shmater security, amirite? Just this once, let’s raise a glass to drought.