Why Harvard’s portfolio of California vineyards is raising concern

The university is fielding questions after drilling deep wells to gain greater access to water than surrounding farmers

(Credit: iStock)
(Credit: iStock)

Harvard University’s endowment is making a hefty profit buying up and working prime land for wine grapes in central California, but not everyone is happy about the investment strategy.

The university has leveraged its $39 billion endowment to pay top dollar for several thousand acres in central California to build its grape-growing business, now worth around $305 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Harvard chose the properties due access to some of the best groundwater in the area, making it farmable for years in the future as climate change and droughts take their toll. The university’s investment guidelines says that respecting local resource rights are importance in the face of increasing competition for scarce resources, food consumption, and global warming.

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But some critics believe that Harvard’s motivation isn’t just growing grapes, but in controlling and perhaps brokering the sale of water. Local residents and farmers living and working in the area also worry that the university’s large-scale operations will tap too much of that water, particularly during droughts, and influence water-use regulations.

Harvard contends that its only interested in growing grapes. [WSJ] – Dennis Lynch