MEDFORD, Ore. – The sound of soft earth underfoot is like music to Dick Ellis’ ears. Just a couple weeks ago there wasn’t a drop of water to be seen.
“We were sweating it,” said Ellis, a vintner and co-owner of Pebblestone Cellars. “We were worried not only from the standpoint of having water in the soil, but also filling up the reservoirs.”
Just a few rain storms changed that.
Moisture readings ranging from a foot deep to nearly four feet into the soil on Ellis’ vineyard show nearly normal levels. But grapes require less water and bloom earlier than many other forms of produce.
Tom White, the Chairman of the Medford Irrigation District, says many other plants – like pears, pumpkins, and sweet corn – are planted later and won’t fare so well.
White says rain will fill up small streams and tributaries to tide farms over. But the two lakes that make up the district, a combined 22,000-25,000 acre feet of water, are at about half of normal volume.
“Low rainfall and the stream-flow isn’t going to help us,” said White. “We need the snow pack.”
Without that snow, water could run out before the season is over – leaving many local farms with smaller, less flavorful produce.
And the chances of a snowstorm in the mountains get slimmer by the day.
“At this point I don’t think it’s going to happen,” said White. “I really don’t.”
But while that comes as bad news for many growers, it likely won’t pose a problem for vintners like Ellis.
He says as long as his grapes drink up for now, they’ll actually prefer a harsh, dry summer.
“We hope that comes true,” said Ellis. “But, as everybody knows, Mother Nature always has a few tricks up her sleeve to keep us off guard.”