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Wednesday Warblings
Reflections On The Drought

By Charles Olken

I sat down this morning to complain about the loss of civility in one country discourse, and two things struck me. The first was that we have always had those who encourage in “uncivil” discourse and who attacked the messenger rather than the message. We have been over this ground before, and I was preparing myself to go over it again when my email bell rang and I received a note from the head of an organization called “American Rivers” essentially lobbying against a bill being considered in Congress to undo all of the waterway protections that we have enacted here in California in the name of clean water and preservation of our extensive fisheries.

And it struck me that we are once again in the midst of uncivil debate, this time about water, which has always been a source for uncivil debate of a ferocity that makes what we do in wine country looked like small beer, indeed.

--Thirteen per cent alcohol versus 14.5%. Raj Parr will drink no Pinot Noir above 14% unless it is from Burgundy where 14.5% is the legal limit and never mind that there are Burgundies that have forever skirted that limit anyhow.

--Oaky, buttery Chardonnays that one writer called “silly” regardless of the fact that the whole world seems to like them except him and his sycophants.

--Napa Valley Cabernets called “caricatures of themselves” because they are riper and richer than they used to be fifty years ago, and never mind that the wines of Bordeaux, and most of the world for that matter, are riper and richer because people like them that way.

--Natural wines versus what? Unnatural wines?

This list could go on and on, but I have questions this morning about the drought, and someone in this world has answers.

For example, does grape growing, under modern methods of farming use more or less water than tomatoes, cotton or marijuana?

Why is my new white car dirty? Will I never be able to wash it again?

My wife says that we may have to wear our clothes a second time in order to reduce the amount of water we use for laundry?

Why did Robert Parker go off so petulantly on notions that he finds wrong-headed? Was he looking to cause the firestorm of angry rhetoric that ensued?

That new GEICO add in which it is claimed that a tree falling in the forest actually makes a noise bugs me somehow. Is that claim any different from the Parker diatribe? Look at me. I am being outrageous because I can, and now you are looking at me.

The drought here is real. If it lasts the three years of the previous big drought in 1976 to 1978, I will not only have a dirty car, but we will see if grapes can actually be dry-farmed? I spent two weeks in Provence during the summer of 2003 when the temperatures were so high that growers received permission to water their vines. Since they have no pre-set watering systems, they had to water by hand. We resorted to doing just that in the previous drought in order to save our most valued plants, but there was no way to save the grass. We did save the grapes, of course, and 1978, the third of the drought years, has in retrospect turned out better than expected with wines that at first seemed a little ripe/dry at their hearts lasting up to three decades and showing brilliantly in the process.

Maybe we need more grapes and less cotton just as we need more thoughtful debate and less uncivility.


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