Whose Water?

The 2011 Ice Wine season looks like it’s going to be a long time coming yet, deep into January or even February 2012. Maybe it’s time to think of making a late harvest wine instead.

Ice Wine Bins, Waiting for the Cold

The Rise, Okanagan Landing

The weather outlook? Great for drinking ice wine, at any rate:

Temperatures: 5-7 Degrees Above Normal: Vernon B.C. Source.

For Ice Wine, though, Minus 12 would be grand.

So, here’s the deal: it takes between (very roughly) 250 and 500 millimetres of water per square foot to grow a crop in the Okanagan, depending on soil, agricultural practices, the nature of the crop itself, and weather. That’s about 50,000 litres of water per acre. Typically, a vineyard will produce approximately 7500 litres of wine per acre out of that water. If the production is geared to ice wine, all that water will produce only 500 litres of wine. Think of it: for each acre of rather risky ice wine, we are converting 50,000 litres of water into 500 litres of luxury wine for sale in China. That’s enough water to support 106 people in the Okanagan, for every acre of ice wine. In other words, the 250 acres of ice wine-dedicated grapes in the Okanagan are using water that could otherwise support about 26,000 people. That’s the population of Peachland, Summerland, and the entire area between Okanagan Falls and the US border, including the cities of Oliver and Osoyoos. I’m all for agricultural water and its larger social and economic benefits, but I think the politics of using a rare, common resource for the sole benefit of the wealthy is hardly palatable, especially in a time of economic distress.

For my part, I think it’s like shooting elephants.

Categories: Agriculture, Water

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