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When a restaurant goes bust, or a movie or play fails to recoup its costs, most of us shrug, possibly pause to give a moment’s thought for all the human effort that has come to nought – and move on. News that a winery has filed for bankruptcy, or as in this case, that up to 10,000ha of Californian vines are about to be ripped up and replaced by almonds, however, is often treated as verging on the tragic. But when all is said and done, grapes are a crop like any other. The English hillsides that now grow grapes that will go into sparkling wine, were more than likely previously home to strawberries, asparagus, sheep or cattle. If a Californian Central Valley farmer can make more money out of nuts (or any other crop) than vines, it’s fair to think that he or she probably isn’t growing very good grapes. Even if they are of passable quality, the chances are that they struggle to compete financially with what’s on offer from South America, or Spain, where drinkable bulk red can currently be bought for €0.35/litre. Almonds, the Western Farm Press report reveals, can bring in $11,250/ha compared to grapes at just $6,250.


Screenshot 2014-12-01 17.10.50We are talking about drought-hit California here, and almonds may not actually be the very best crop to be growing right nowScreenshot 2014-12-01 17.15.17

As this little infographic from the US publication Mother Jones reveals, it takes the same amount of water to grow three grapes as one almond…

According to the latest forecast from the US National Weather Service Climate Prediction Centre “In California, the seasonal increase in precipitation, a tilt of the odds toward above-normal precipitation in… December… and enhanced chances for a wetter-than-normal winter across the southern half of the state should bring improvement to many areas, but it must be emphasized that improvement is not elimination, and it is expected that most of the state will still be in drought to some degree at the end of the winter, with significant areas still in severe drought or worse despite improvements

So, who knows? maybe the Central Valley vines might yet get a last minute reprieve – or a return to favour in a few year’s time.

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