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Feb 18, 2014 8:16 PM by April Hansen, KSBY

Local winemakers say crops may suffer in future season due to drought

Some winemakers in Santa Barbara County say their crops may suffer in future seasons if it doesn't rain soon.

A longtime Lompoc winemaker says a good grape crop needs strong soil, which takes a lot of water, but rain has not been a reliable source so far this year.

"If you have healthy soil, you are going to have healthy vines and healthy fruit and that all really translates into not just healthy wine, but good wine," said Chad Melville, co-owner of Melville Winery.

Melville says winemaking starts in the ground.

"The ultimate wine is one that is stimulating. One that is balanced, but all that really comes back to is where it starts. It's the farming. It's the land. It's the soil," said Melville.

He says soil needs rain.

"The well water we have is a little salty so you get natural salt build up over time and without the rain and the winter to cleanse the soil and to push the salts down, you start to see the result in the vine," said Melville.

Traditionally, February is one of the wettest months in California, but the latest U.S. drought monitor reports show more than 95% of the state is in drought conditions.

"What you would get with conditions that are pretty extreme drought are very low yields. You're going to get vines that are really stressed. They respond by not growing as much and the leaves aren't as bright," said Melville.

He says the fear among many local winemakers is the long-term affects.

"If you have too much stress on one growing season the vines respond the following season from that stress so we are looking toward the road here at 2015," said Melville.

He says the solution for now is to be a responsible farmer.

"You change your mentality. You change your equipment. You change your game plan. You change everything because the conditions are different," said Melville.

KSBY also spoke with the vice president of the Santa Barbara County Vintners' Association, Michael Larner, who also owns a winery. He says the region has been hit by drought three years in a row and the best thing winemakers can do is find ways to use water efficiently.

Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in January and is calling on Congress to compromise on legislation to help the state's hard hit agricultural areas.

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