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  • Writer's pictureIsaac yelchin

California: Water & Wine

If you live around southern California you will have felt something unusual in the last few weeks. We have been so lucky to have heavy rains for the first time in a number of years. Of course, if you live pretty much anywhere else in the world, the three days of what we Californians call “heavy” rains would seem laughable. California gets around 22 inches on average annually, which is about half the rainfall of most other states.

The rarity of these rains makes them that much more special. They are critical to the environment of Southern California, providing breeding habitat and sustenance for animals and plants. However, even with the extra burst this year, the drought is still severe. California has an incredible need for water to serve its massive population, and to grow the billions of crops farmed throughout the state.

California grows and supplies two thirds of the fruit for the United States, and one third of the vegetables. This herculean farming effort requires an unbelievable amount of water. So much that most of the water used for farming is imported from Colorado and other states. This causes those states to enter a drought, and the cycle continues.

So when we get any rains at all here, it is a huge help not only to our own water needs but to the rest of the country. If you ever drive up the I5 through the middle of California you will be sidelined by fruits and vegetables for hundreds of miles. Not to mention that once you get up past San Francisco you will enter wine country. Talk about needing water! Those grapes are thirsty.

Wine helped shape and create California. The earliest known wine production in the state began in the 1770s with Spanish settlers making their own wine for communion. The grapes took hold and thrived in the Northern California environment. The weather patterns and climate in Sonoma, Napa valley, and the other wine hotspots in California, are strikingly similar to those in Italy.

Tuscany in Italy, and Sonoma in Northern California, are both at about 39° of Latitude. Or, in other words, are approximately the same distance away from the equator, which means they see about the same amount of sun every day. They also are both near their respective oceans, and have similar coastally influenced weather patterns.

Italy has been known as the ideal place to grow grapes for thousands of years, so finding a similar habitat in California created an opportunity for winemaking starting in the 1700s and continuing today. When these winemaking efforts in Northern California first began, there were only a few thousand pioneers living in the area.

The grows were small scale and water was easily siphoned from the Russian river and its offshoots. Today however, the 39 million people living in California put a serious strain on the water demand, and the massive scale of vineyards to supply these millions of people also require lots and lots of water.

Sucking the land dry for fruits, vegetables, drinking water, and wine, like we do, only increases the risks of fire. When these fires inevitably come, the drought, that we have assisted with our drainage of the land, only intensifies the fires severity. Without the rains, the land and plants are dry and ready to burn. The dry plants can cause problems outside of just fire, after they burn, their roots lose hold on the earth. So when the rains do come, the earth is loose, and will get carried away by the water, creating dangerous landslides.

I was trapped at home for a couple days because of one of these rain induced landslides. As you can see, it completely covered the road! Thankfully no one was passing when it came down. Rain really makes the world turn round and has an enormous effect on California, and in turn, on the rest of the country. So next time the rains pour in California, don’t complain, and appreciate what they do to help you survive.

Special thanks to Kathleen Prati for the beautiful Sonoma Vineyard and Fruit pictures!


Isaac Yelchin is foremost a herpetologist. He studies lizards, frogs, newts, and the like. Specifically, he spends all day and night thinking about what it is like to be an animal. What are the animals thinking about? What is their perspective? When he should be working, he sits and stares at his pet lizard asking himself these questions.

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