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Local Vineyards Battle Heat and Drought Conditions

LOMPOC, Calif. - Drought conditions and warm weather has local vineyard owners sweating over the upcoming growing season.

"I think the drought is affecting most wine makers and wine growers by a sense of worry," says Wes Hagen, winemaker and vineyard manager for Clos Pepe Vineyards. "A lot of us are already getting ready for conservation."

Hagen has no complaints with the beautiful, sunny days we've been getting, but he wouldn't mind a rainy day.

"Every inch of rainwater saves us about $5,000 in electricity to pump the water out of the ground. Groundwater adds salts to the soil while rainfall takes the salts out of the soil, so rainfall is cleansing."

Without a rain cloud in sight, Hagen has measures in place to conserve. Sprinkler irrigation is out and drip irrigation is in, and you won't see much watering being done during the day.

While workers are busy trimming the vines to prepare for bud break in a month or so, vineyard managers like Hagen are keeping a close eye on the vines to make sure the warm weather isn't disrupting normal patterns.

Fortunately for our local vineyards, their sleeping vines aren't in any immediate danger of waking up early for bud break. It's because we're still having cold nights, which keeps the temperature inside the soil properly regulated.

"The temperature of the soil, maybe 12-18 inches deep, is critical," says Hagen. "Warm days warms the top of the soil, but not so much the bottom of the soil. When we start getting the soil warming up at deeper depths, that's when we have to start worrying about the vines waking up."

Vines typically start to grow at the end of February into March. Early growth could be damaged from frost that typically arrives late-winter.

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