Thursday March 20, 2014
this too shall pass!
It’s almost the end of March and we’re only at nine inches of rain. We’re supposed to get some precipitation next week, but that might only amount to a quarter of an inch. It appears that the next best chance will be around the first week of April. But we’re running out of time!
Last year was marked by a whole bunch of conversation and tension over the continual depletion of the water table on the east side of Paso Robles. A moratorium was put in place to prevent any new plantings of crops requiring irrigation. A water board is likely to be created to oversee the water resources in this community. The population of Paso has increased dramatically over the last decade, and vineyard acreage has exploded. Long time residents are up in arms over the depletion of the water table as a result of the water used by vineyard owners.
Things are looking bleak. Or are they?
We moved here almost ten years ago, and my first year was spent getting an education about the best way to develop our farming operation. It didn’t take long to realize that Paso was on the verge of something big, and if we were right, it also wouldn’t be long before available water became a big issue. We knew our property was ideal for growing high quality grapes and that we had heavy clay soils with lots of fractured rock. We also had rain that averaged 28” per year.
So, we came to the conclusion that we should dry-farm (rely only on the winter rains). After all, the property, and our neighborhood had dry-farmed walnuts, almonds, hay, and safflower for decades before us. So we had a plan. Today, we have almost 50 acres of dry-farmed vines planted.
The stats say that we average around 28” of rain each year, but this is how it’s panned out (in rough form). From winter 2004⁄05 till this year, we’ve seen something like 70+”, 28”(05/06), 10”(06/07), 28”(07/08), 20”(08/09), 32”(09/10), 42”(10/11), 17”(11/12), 18”(12/13), and 9”(to date). A huge variation from year to year.
Last year, of the 18” total rainfall, we had perhaps 14−15” by the first of January 2013. We were getting ten acres of vines ready to plant on our property, and were worried about it being so wet that we wouldn’t be able to get into the field to plant. Alas, we had a few weeks of dry weather and got the vines in by the first of February. Unfortunately, we only got a few more inches the rest of the season. Ideally, I would have liked to have seen at least 10”. So, in June, we resorted to using five gallon buckets at each stake with a nail hole at the bottom to drip into the root zones. Even with a really hot summer, virtually all of the vines survived.
This year has been the polar opposite. Again, we were getting ready to plant another ten acres at my buddy Ron Turovsky’s property. By the first of January we had had essentially no rain. By the middle of February, only about 2 1⁄2 inches. Hardly enough to plant. Ron and I talked seriously about canceling any planting this winter. Around the end of February, it started to look like we might have some significant precipitation around the first of March. We decided to get a crew into the field and get planted before the storm. The timing couldn’t have been better. In a five day period we added another 6 1⁄2 inches to the tally. Nine inches for the season! As wonderful as that was, we’re only still about a third of our average annual rainfall. And we’re running out of time. Right now I’d be happy with even another 3 – 5 inches. Of the two scenarios, I’d rather have this year’s situation with the heavier rains after planting, as the new vines probably have a better chance to get established and drill their roots sufficiently deep before the hot summer days of July and August.
I do worry about what this all will mean for the health of the vines this growing season. Yet after some reflection I’ve come to the conclusion that other much older dry-farmed vineyards like Pesenti (Turley today), or the Dusi brothers, have survived for many decades. These are vineyards on less clay, with perhaps half the rainfall, and hotter summers than we experience. Clearly they’ve seen times like this over the decades. I’m confident, that this too shall pass.
The vines are amazingly resilient. The soils are heavy in clay, rocks are porous, and the ability to retain moisture is high. I’ll drop a lot more fruit this year to relieve some of the stress on the vines. In the long run, the rain will come again. I won’t need to worry about the water table, as my vines have been trained to drill deep for moisture. And, the stress put on the vines will ultimately create wine of amazing complexity, flavor, and aromatics.
Life is good!
all things not wine: kitchen, olive oil, and more
Not much new to report in the kitchen, though we will be making a change to our pricing. We will raise our prices to $14 and $10 for sandwiches, but will balance that for club members by offering wine club discounts (so wine club members will pay the same or less than currently). We are trying to maintain a service for our customers while not filling the tasting room with people who aren’t here for the wine.
Since we have been sampling it in the tasting room, many of you have tried the new olive oil harvested in October 2013. We picked it early, so it is a little greener than in the past, and when compared to our 2012 oil, it has a bit of a bite. It will mellow over time though, and probably be pretty similar to past “vintages”. We still have plenty of the 2012 and recently have sold it to the Venice Whole Foods (finally) and Bistro Laurent in Paso. Please ask for it in other Whole Foods and recommend it to your friends.
I also wanted to devote some space to making recommendations for local things to do, and places to stay and eat. We get a lot of people asking, and thought it would be handy to have the information when you are planning a trip. Here are just a few of our favorites:
Hotel Cheval — If you’re up for a splurge, and there is room in this tiny 16 room hotel in the heart of Paso, it is worth a visit. hotelcheval.com.
Cass House — This small inn in Cayucos is our favorite special event destination. The rooms are lovely and the dinner is amazing – top 2 in the Central Coast. We usually stay overnight so we can fully enjoy the dinner with wine. casshouseinn.com
Sea Stone Ridge — If you’re travelling with a crowd, our across the street neighbors have a 3 bedroom vacation rental on their property. Within stumbling distance of the kukkula tasting room! Check them out at pasoroblesvacationrentals.com.
Bistro Laurent — Still our favorite in Paso Robles. Consistently amazing. We always let Somm Ian and Chef Laurent make the decisions for us.
Cass House — See above.
Black Cat Bistro — The best in Cambria. If you are staying in Cambria, don’t even think about going anywhere else.
Central Coast Food Tours — Walking tours of downtown Paso and SLO. Includes food and wine tasting. Check them out at centralcoastfoodtours.com.