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California earthquake adds to woes of wineries

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Updated: 8/29/2014 4:09 pm

(NBC News) While dozens of wineries in Napa, California's famed wine region are still cleaning up and tallying damage after last weekend's earthquake, their focus is changing.

Winemakers across the state are picking and crushing grapes ahead of usual harvest time because the drought has ripened crops early, one symptom of the lack of water.

"Although we are set up with drip irrigation and we can water, the vines don't need a lot of water," says Michael Honig of Honig Vineyard & Winery.

Chuck Wagner of Caymus Vineyards says stress, within limits, is good for grapes, but with all things in wine making, requires careful attention.

"If the drought is too heavy and the vine has to struggle to a degree where it's own life is threatened, the drought has gone too far," he explains.

So far that hasn't happened in much of the Napa region, despite the unprecedented drought throughout the state, but in more arid regions, like the Central Valley, a lack of water has been catastrophic, leaving grapes dying on the vine.

The amount of water in any given year not only impacts grapes on the vine, but the number of new vines that can be planted. New plants that determine future crops, need more water than established vines.

Throughout California, vintners say another year of drought could put them over the edge.

Still, despite the drought winemakers say overall they expect to toast high yields and good quality.

At the same time, they're learning to live with less water through resource management and new technologies, including the development of more drought resistant grapes.

-- Leanne Gregg reports



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