Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Cerro Prieto and the Red Moon.

All are aware that California is literally burning down. Just 4 days ago we had fires burning North, South, East, and NW of us. Granted none were nearer us than 4 miles, but the air here has been foul since the start of the Sobreanes fire up N of Big Sur, (and now moving closer to it). That fire is now entering his 5th or 6th week, can't remember. But even tho it was 90 miles north of us, with prevailing winds pushing the ash and smoke out over the ocean, it then goes south 120 miles or so, and then comes back up at us, from the SW. That fire alone has made the air here totally unsafe for asthmatics, COPDers, and so on.

Then 13 days ago, the areas around Lake Nacimiento ,especially the NE portion went up in flames, and now 2 weeks later, has gone from 750 acres and firemen from San Diego and Fresno in addition to ours....we now have 40,000 acres burned or burning, and 4000 firemen on the line. Four thousand....Oh, boy, this was not what anyone wanted. Many of you have read about the fire burning dangerously close to the treasured Hearst Castle, with flames easily seen from the Castle proper. Only a Herculean effort has kept the Castle from burning down.

Anyway, back to the Red Moon...the fire at and around Lake Nacimiento has come close to the Adelaide area of vines and wines. Still no damage to my knowledge, but 40,000 acres is a massive fire. Along with that, we got massive clouds of soot, smoke, ashes...and it has continued to date. Yesterday, Teresa and I were inside and suddenly we smelled smoke. We hurriedly checked all electrical appliances, then checked each room, every square inch of it. No fire we could find. Soon it became difficult to breathe and a glimpse outside showed visibility to the south no more than to our pool....twenty feet. And I mean clouds and masses of smoke. I thot maybe we had some of our forest on fire, but after calling Cal Fire Hotline, they said, no, that was just the Chimney fire near the the Sobreanes Fire, plus the fire that destroyed some medical complexes just near the several grass fires in Atascadero, Templeton, and Paso. I said we were surrounded by fires, but did not count the complete number. What was impressive tho, was that Teresa and I had to pack up Sombra, and head for the coast.  A quick phone call told us that the air was fine there.

Teresa has asthma so she notices bad air way before I do. The drive W on hiway 46 W was smoky the first 12 miles, but the last 5 got progressively clearer the further W we went. Talk about did we ever have them. Bright red orange sunsets, more red than not, and not the type we see around here. More impressive at nite, tho, was 3 nties back, when the moon, now full, came up very late, around 10 p.m. or so. A harvest moon if ever there was one. The color? Blood red. Really. No reason the moonrise can't do what the sunset does, but never have I seen it. Also, never have I been in such a thick massive smoke environment.

The accumulation of Sobreanes and Chimney fires (Chimney Rock Rd is the extension of 24th St going W out of Paso, and then Hiway G14 cuts off and goes N to the Lake. "Chimney" fire came from the junction of those two roads) the dozen of so other fires around us, have made living here uninhabitable at times during the days...sometimes all day. The Westerlies, or SWesterlies, have saved our bacon when they come up near sundown or sometimes sooner. But yesterday....our house filled with smoke, which I later realized was coming down our chimney. We skedaddled as noted above, and found Cayucos to be beautiful clear, clean, air. Just to get a lungful was refreshing.

Some winds came up, pretty substantial winds, and we headed home around 4ish. On the way back, when we came to Hiway 46, we were stunned to look NE and see the mountain tops on fire...and they are well south of Hearst Castle. So the Castle now has fires on 3 sides of it, but the firemen seem to have it protected. Those of you planning a trip up this way, certainly ought to check first as to conditions here, as most of the time, it has been unlivable. This a.m. Chimney fire is now at 40% containment, but also another 3500 acres burned last nite. I hadn't thot about it much, but one thing the 2016 harvest will not need is a lot of new French oak get that smokey taste. The grape's skins have to be coated with cinder flavor right now....Just kidding, but you get the implication.

As for Cerro Prieto vineyard, never have I seen it so beautiful...perhaps because I didn't have to do it myself. Anyway, it is a pleasure to view what we planted some 17 yrs ago. It is lovely beyond description, and even tho we have sold off 3/4 of our acreage of vines, still we get great pride and satisfaction from driving by and viewing them. Also Sombra loves to run amongst the vines.

No pictures this blog in that the red moon didn't turn out with the camera nor lens I used. And the smoke pics taken during the day just show nothing. Hence no photos. We are on tap to have a superb harvest, quality wise, and it should be in the 2.5-3.0 tons/acre. Have to say I miss it, but yet at the same time, when I could no longer do any of the work myself, it actually isn't so bad. Same goes for winemaking. I do miss selling the wine and meeting new people, however, as we have met and made new friends with so many interesting and "interested" the wine club, for example.

Speaking of that, we have only a very few cases of wine left and those are the 2012 Paso Bordo(Cab/Syrah), and the 2013 Merlot(with a touch of Syrah in it). I am way behind getting back to folks re: orders, so I will just add that anyone who wishes the last cases of Cerro Prieto wines, to send me an email or call. Both wines are currently being consumed by wine club members, but for my taste, I prefer to not drink these until the 5th or 6th yr. There are 3 cases of the 2012 Paso Bordo and 6 of the 2013 Merlot we have remaining to sell. (Had to keep some for ourselves).

That is it from here, where once again I am sure we will see the "Red Moon" late this evening,  but sure will be happy when it is gone forever. Once was enough..."once in a red moon"... Trust me, as striking as it just means this beautiful place is darn close to unlivable. And that is something I never thot I would see or say.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Cerro Prieto and the Long Spring.

Figures...last 4 years we had virtually 12 months of summer, with a slight cooling spell,  usually for a week or so before Christmas. The remainder of the was just mild, delightful, and not the ideal conditions for grape growing. No question summers were good and hot, but it cooled off nicely at nites.  Enter Spring 2016: a beautiful, cool, crisp, spring, beginning in early Feb to even a bit of late Jan. Then the traditional springs here began. Cold, sometimes really cold at nites, and very pleasant during the daytime. Then March hit and we got the big splits, freezing in valley vineyard and 60s-70s in daytime. The usual time for bud break, late Feb to early March went off without a hitch in the high reaches of the Syrah. But down in the valley vineyard, it remained in the high 20s most mornings. As usual, that coldness warmed right up after sunrise, so no damage to low valley vines. But the winter dormancy continued and kept the Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot well behind where they should have been. Below are examples of Pinot and Syrah, just 5 -6 weeks ago.

Here is Syrah, already 12"-18" on average.

And here, skimpy and puny is the Pinot on the same day. Granted, it was 27 degrees at 4:30 a.m. and this was representative of most of the valley vineyard. Typically, the mountain vineyard is ahead, but this was ridiculous.

Fast forward to today, and we have canes on Syrah reaching 7' and Pinot is maxed out at it's typical 36". The Syrah has already bloomed and had fruit set now, and the Pinot is still thinking about it. The few warmer spots in Pinot have a few blooms, but are substantially behind the Syrah. The Merlot vineyard, not mountain top, and not valley vineyard, has yet to even remotely consider blooming. There is a very nice set of buds in the Merlot, but no blooms as of yet. This is just another demonstration of the multiple microclimates we have here, and some, like one of the Cab blocs, has three definable microclimates in one bloc. Significance? Well, only that if you are planning on harvesting all of bloc 5 at once, fuggedaboudit. It won't happen, and usually means we harvest it 3 times: once the top, once the mid, and once the bottom third. And yes, that is a real pain. Yet if you want all the grapes you harvest to be ripened thru and thru, this is what you do. During the drought, however, we usually harvested bloc 5 in just two segments.

Grape set? Nope, these are Merlot flower buds which will open, with dainty yellow flowers and with luck get pollinated, and then set tiny little grapes, just about the size of the flower buds above.  This is exactly what the Merlot buds look like at present, putting them dead last in going into bloom. Somehow, they manage to "catch up" with the Cab, Syrah over the course of the summer, but will follow the Pinot harvest by about 2 weeks.

Brian Heath of Heath Vineyards who bought 15 of our 20 acres of vines, is currently planting the bloc we never got around to planting, one which faces due SW. Interestingly, there is no place you can stand to see the top of the bloc from the bottom. Likewise, there is no place you can stand to see the bottom of the bloc from the top. Sure you can see the valley below, but not the bottom of the bloc. It is steeply terraced, and has some areas that are 45 degrees of inclination...and some greater. Un-terraced, this bloc would not have been able to be planted. I am delighted to see the vines go in, as I always wondered if this limestone face was not the one best bloc we have. It is just adjacent to our current Syrah bloc, and is destined for greatness. Brian is planting Petit Verdot and a bit more Syrah. Both will go is a blue eyed witch to put in however. Tough, really tough.

Follow up on several wines:

The 2012 Paso Bordo was still not ready 3 months ago, and a local friend had some this weekend and said, "Still not ready". It is behaving much like our 2006 Paso Bordo, which truly took all 48 months to return to barrel quality. That is the way this started, and I have a feeling we are looking at Jan 2017 til it gets back to where it started. It's drinkable, but nowhere near where it should be. So be patient, and continue to leave it on its side. The 2013 Merlot, which was my favorite ever in barrel, has turned out to be a terrific wine. It has not yet, but soon will surpass all our other is that good. And yes, you can definitely drink it now. Same goes for the 2013 Syrah. Drink anytime from now on.

That's it for now, and could have included several vineyard pics where the vines tower, some 7' in length already. 25" of rain can go a long way in the vineyard. This is the best the vineyard has looked since the wet years of 2010 and 2011, when we had 52" and 54". We right now are seeing what normal 24" rainfall does to the vines...and right now, vineyard is outrageously beautiful.

Oh, my apology for not getting back to the many who have written to ask if we have any wines left to buy. Answer is yes, a few. I have 4 cases of 2012 Paso Bordo and 4 cases of Merlot I will still sell. But those are the last. Now if you write and request some, I can answer you...before I was uncertain exactly what we had between winery and warehouse.

The drought is over and we are celebrating. Finally...and by the grace of God. It was getting dicey here, but rain has fixed all that.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Cerro Prieto's Spectacular spring

A spectacular Spring hello to all Cerro Prieto club members. If you haven't seen it yet, it isn't too late. This spring has far surpassed anything I have seen to date. Green, green, everywhere green. Birds building nests, red tailed hawks flying and mating in flight, deer, quail, turkeys....all have suddenly returned. So, too, have a sometimes visitor, the band tailed pigeons. They roost in our tallest trees by night, fly all day, take a break for lunch of delicious Live Oak acorns, and then fly and soar some more. Oddly, they have started feeding on the birdseed we leave out for the finches, juncos, titmouses, grosbeaks, and Stellar's mountain jays. Nuthall woodpeckers are working every single oak tree we have and many oaks have hundreds of acorns neatly drilled into the bark.

Coyotes more common than ever before, same for turkey vultures, eating some of the predators I have shot. The place is more like a wildlife refuge than a vineyard. I love it. Just love it. Nature everywhere, and beauty galore. Wildflowers are an all time high, and nowhere near done yet. Yellow is predominant color, but plenty of purple lupine bushes, some 20 feet across. Oh, and wild radish is doing itself proud, as is wild mustard, brought here first by the monks in the early 1700s. If one cannot appreciate the abundant beauty seen everywhere, then one is insensate. This spring with these colors is one for the books.

Oh, yes, the vines are all leafed out, since 2-3 weeks ago. Everything is setting up for another classic yr. Speaking of classics, our 2013 Syrah went out along with our 2013 Merlot, the best Merlot and Syrah made since beginning the vineyard. All precursors have been Intl Gold Medal wines, but these two, my last wines, are better yet. We shipped virtually all merlot and syrah I was aware of, but after doing a personal inventory inspection, we have more than 5 cases of '13 Syrah I will sell and 17 cases of '13 Merlot. I have a lengthy list of members who want to buy "all we have left". It will be a first come first served basis, or more correctly, first to contact me gets the wine. Also I found 4 cases of the 2011 Pinot Noir, now in its fifth and best yr that I will sell. There's probably more but that is what I found that I didn't know we had. So all the above is available all at $39/btl and will sell til gone. I will send an email around to all those who wanted some wine and others who wanted to buy everything we had. Not too sure that is correct, yet we have a number of members that said that very thing. So let me hear from you and I will be around awhile, after back surgery #16. Oh, didn't mention that Pinot Noir got written up in Wine Enthusiast this yr and was a 92 pt wine with that national magazine. That's it for now and will try and stay in contact with all who wished to buy more wine. I said 2018 will be the time to drink the 2013, but already, have taken a yr off that. So drink those beginning in 2017 or mid 2017. I will let you know exactly when and will take questions for other yrs you may have. Phone# for orders is 805 226 8448. As you know you can always email me

Best regards to all,

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Cerro Prieto Vineyard...".Firsts"

Yes, firsts. Some of you may think I am referring to the recent spate of good news our wines have received in Wine Enthusiast recently...Nope, but I am very grateful for all the recent accolades nationally and internationally. We are both proud and grateful for all the recent good press.  Instead, I am referring to some things that have never happened here at the vineyard before, and they are both quirky, and definitely "Firsts".

Pretty easy to begin in mid July when in the midst of a sweltering heat spell, it suddenly rained...and then kept raining....30 hours to be exact, and a record for any month, 6 1/4 inches here at the vineyard. I have no pictures of that but we got some incredible ruts in the middle of our red rock roads, plus some substantial erosion in the middle of the vineyard. 6 1/4 inches of rain is the largest single rain I have experienced in my 38 yrs here in Paso Robles. It is hands down the largest summer rain ever recorded here. As a matter of fact, that is exactly how much rain we had all of 2014. Amazing, unbelievable...a First. Add to that a summer that has been remarkable for Houston style, in the high 80%, sometimes into the 90%. That , too, is a first. For the first time ever in 4 decades here, the climate is changing...or has changed. Doesn't mean that it won't revert back to normal next yr, but it definitely has changed this yr. And THAT is a first.

One of the things you have read about in this blog has been the spectacular temperature swings we have day/night. In previous years we have had 70 degree day nite temp swings, on occasion 80 degree swings. This past August was hot and stayed hot...and humid. But at night, instead of temps falling into the low 40s and high 30s, we have had balmy, 70 degree nites...another first.
Usually green until late Nov, this spring fed poison oak bush has a couple green leafed Live Oaks growing up thru it. The poison oak itself is dead with a few yellow leaves remaining.

Going back farther, I mentioned early in May that we had poison oak leaves beginning to turn to fall colors, but there always is a small portion of poison oak on northern facing slopes that remains green until Fall. Not this yr as you will see in the picture below. There are some green leaves here but those are live oak tree leaves. The remainder of this sprawling poison oak vine is either bare or has a few remnant yellow leaves remaining. This area is well shaded, has a natural spring under it, and usually remains green until November when the hard freezes come. Not this year, tho, and that is another first.

Of greater importance, and something we have every year are the winds of spring. Typically we have 6 to 20 knot Westerly winds that come up in early spring, and blow most every afternoon from 2:30 until just after sunset. Generally these are good for pollination as long as the wind velocity stays under 20-25 knots. Not uncommonly, we get really windy spring days, and get winds in the 20-40 knot range, usually in gusts. Occasionally we get 40-60 knot winds, with gusts up into the 60-90 knot range. I used to rely on anemometer for these readings, but instead now calculate wind velocities of 60- 90 knots based on whether the heavy teak furniture on our protected back deck is carried away or not. If the teak chairs end up in the Merlot vineyard 1/2 mile from here, we had 60-90 knot gusts. For the record, 90 knot winds are early hurricane winds, and if you try walking into it, you will be unable to make much progress...if any. So far, nothing new. This year, however, we got our late March thru early May westerlies, which howled up the draws and ravines, then went racing down the mountain vineyards even faster. And we got extended periods of this. Still, that happens not infrequently. The difference this year has been that we got successive days of BIG WINDS, some that never let up.
One of many Cab vines with zero clusters of grapes. Vines on either side likewise had no fruit. This is not what you want to see.

Bloom this year was magnificent, with every blossom on every cluster just perfect. It looked to be a perfect bloom, and besides birds and bees, we had the Westerlies to help in pollination. What we didn't want however, was the sustained high velocities we got, and seemingly were here right smack dab in the midst of Cabernet bloom. Bloom in a 90 knot gust of wind does not stay on the vine long. There were times when one could see the bloom and pollens being ripped off the vines....that is if you could stand up straight enough to see it occur. I merely noted this, and in time, spring gave way to summer. What looked like a good fruit set, however, soon became a sparse fruit set. And worse yet, it seemed to be thruout the Cab, in all 3 blocs. Thinking I wasn't getting a good reading, I waited until after verasion , when green grapes turn to purple. Going thru the vineyard on the ATV confirmed what I had thought earlier on...little to few grapes on many grapes on others. And there, folks, was another first. It looked as if some thief had come in the night and stolen virtually all our Cab. NEVER have I seen an event like this before, tho certainly I have seen light fruit sets. This was a horse of another color, however. This was virtually no fruit set. Yes, there are a few areas in the blocs where several vines all have grapes. But that is unusual, and most Cab vines are devoid of fruit. This was definitely a first for me, for here, for anywhere. Light fruit sets we have had with the drought...2012 was an example where we had roughly 12 tons instead of our normal 25 tons. But this... wow, this is just hard to believe.
Look hard and you will see 1 cluster and one abortive cluster...but that's it.

It doesn't stop here, though. We also have a number of dead oak trees...Live Oaks, which have been here for centuries, and have made it thru drought , severe heat, and kept on ticking. This year, we have had almost 6% of our Live Oaks die off, something never seen before here. County wide the average for die off of Live Oaks is 3%. On the road cut just below our home, we have over a dozen dead oaks there alone. And that is another first. We may have lost oak trees which were snapped off by high winds, but never have we seen such a die off as we have had this yr.
The dead leaves belong to 3 oaks, all small with 18" diameter, all dead as a doornail..

Additionally, we lost a massive 80 ft Live Oak just outside our vineyard fence. It fell over in no wind at all but rather on a blistering hot day. I came home from the store at 6:15 p.m., and noted that a couple good sized branches had fallen across the county road, Las Tablas Willow Creek Rd.  I considered briefly getting some rope from the barn and pulling the branches off the road, but in the end, it would have been awkward at best, and failed at the worst. So I went thru the vineyard and figured that the next day someone else would have moved the fallen limbs. Next day I drove down to see if the tree limbs had been moved, only to note that a massive 80 ft. Live Oak had fallen right along the roadside. Evidently, it had gone down just 5-10 minutes after I had left and fell cleanly along the side of the road. It took down some of the vineyard deer fencing but the most bizarre finding was that the tree had toppled over due to only a few tiny roots that remained, anchoring the 3 ft, diameter tree to the ground. With no wind, those remaining few atrophied roots were nowhere near enough of an anchor to keep the tree upright. With so much weight above ground, the tree literally just fell over. Look at the few remaining roots (in lite tan on photo) that were responsible for this mighty oak standing upright. No way could so few living roots successfully anchor such a huge tree. Also, given that I had planned to be pulling some branches out of the way with ropes and my truck, it was obvious that had I attempted to do so, I would have been crushed when this massive oak toppled over. Talk about blind luck...

This root ball should have been 15 ft across, with masses of root systems holding huge amounts of dirt, yet the oak was anchored by only 4 tiny atrophied roots (in light tan color)

So with the multiple dead Live Oaks on our property plus this bizarre falling of this huge oak, we had two firsts never seen here before.
This 80 foot Live Oak was 3 ft in diameter.

Lastly are two other events that again are firsts. Both involve my two favorite trees of the fall. One is the Chinese Pistache tree and the other is the Oregon Pear...both ornamentals, and both with magnificent colors in the fall...late in November, long after harvest is over. The Chinese Pistache turns a glorious orange, then deep red...and stays that way for at least a month, sometimes longer. Then being deciduous, the leaves fall. Well, not only is it not late November, but the photo below was taken two weeks ago, Aug 15th. Note the top of the Pistache showing definite deep orange color, and even a tad of lovely red. Again, another first.
Chinese Pistache bright orange and yellows 3 months early

The Oregon Pear, also ornamental, likewise turns orange, red, then flame red, and finally a deep red-black, before the colorful leaves fall...again in late November. Note the Oregon Pear has already begun to go thru its color change, with many flame red to dark red leaves in amongst the still green leaves. This has never happened the entire 4 decades I have lived here, yet there it is. Another first, fall colors coming a full 3 months before it has ever happened before.
Oregon Pear deep red colors 3 months early

So altho I wasn't counting, the amazing number of "FIRSTS" is just a sampling the bizarre happenings going on this year. The fact that we lost our huge temperature splits for the first time ever this August may have had a hand in this. The record 4 years of severe drought, the sustained heat with little cooling off at nite, the utterly bizarre 6 1/4 inch rain in July, the north slope poison oak going dormant 3 months early, the dead Live Oaks, the atrophied roots of the massive roadside oak with resultant tree fall...the sustained spring winds gusting to 60-90 knots and recurring every afternoon for 6 weeks, the virtual stripping of our Cab bloom away by these winds...well, that is an awful lot of firsts, none of which we have seen before, and which we very definitely do not wish to see again. The unpleasant and formerly unknown humidity...well I don't think anyone could argue this is climate change. But is it global warming? Doubtful, if only because this is but one solitary year. But was this year bizarre, unexpected, never seen before? Definitely yes, and unfortunately, a year of FIRSTS.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Cerro Prieto...What Hath We Wrought?

Good gracious, Lordy almighty. For the first time in years, I looked at our vineyard, perhaps for the first time non-critically, and was mesmerized by the beauty that Cerro Prieto vineyard has become. Perhaps it is because we sold 15 of our 20 acres to Heath Vineyards in Fredricksburg, Texas, and I no longer am responsible for every gopher, ground squirrel, or any weak or sickly know, the things you do to ascertain that every moving part of your job, project, invention...or in this case 100% perfect. I am amazed at the difference I note in looking at our vineyard now, as opposed to when we owned, cared for, and oversaw all of it. Somehow, someway, I was never able to sit down or drive by and notice what beauty and joy this vineyard brings. Now, after leasing the remaining 5 acres of vines, I am completely out of the vineyard business, leaving that to a new vineyard manager, Neil Roberts. To say I am anything other than delighted with the way they have taken care of our vineyard, would be untrue. They are doing a spectacular job, which formerly I worried over, fretted over, lost sleep over. I still have rights to make wine the next 5 yrs if I wish...or not.
Road view of Pinot Noir along the road with the Quinientos Cab bloc in background. The vineyard is great...the asphalt road...not so much.

A big part of the sale...and leasing...was not ill health, but joints and parts that have quit working for me. When asked, "Why are you selling your vineyard?", I responded simply, "I am all beat up".
15 back surgeries plus 15 knee surgeries have a tendency to do that to a fellow...not complaining, as there are many folks out there with a lot more problems than I. But unquestionably, physically, I have a 50 year old's heart and a 90 year old's body. Healthwise I am fine, but the legs, foot,  back and knees are not what I would recommend to someone else. Those are used parts, not much good any longer. As for winemaking, which I have been frequently asked about, I still am looking at bottling our 2013 Merlot and Syrah either August or December. All depends if the wines continue to improve weekly or not. If so, no way do I want to get in the way of perfection. To date, they both are getting better, week after week, month after month. If they level out...or plateau...then we bottle. Of course, if that happens to be during crush...Sept to Dec...the winery isn't available for bottling. That is dedicated winemaking time, and all else is put on hold. So, at present, we are waiting on our 2013 Merlot and Syrah to reach a peak and level off. To date, they just keep getting better weekly.

Quinientos bloc of Cab looking from the East, with vines as verdant as healthy as ever. Remember this is into the teeth of a 4 year drought. Good vineyard management plus we used a lot of water to save the vines.

Returning to the vineyard, the vines look greener, healthier, stronger, than they have at any time in the past. Somehow, someway, I managed to miss that while working daily to be sure that each and
every vine was the best it could  Bloom was heavy this yr, way better than most years, but the "springtime" rolling London fog brought its unwanted guest...brutal, 70 to 80 knot winds, which just knocked blooms onto the ground, causing the fruit "set" to be on the light side. From a winemaking standpoint that means a much lower crop, bad for the grower, but a winemaker's dream. If you own the vineyard AND are the vintner, it balances out. Here's an obvious tip: buy all the 2014 wines you can as this will be the 4th consecutive drought year...and best year for W side Paso wines ever. They will be sensational,  as long as the winery has the world class terroir and LOW crop yields, such as we have at Cerro Prieto.

One of my favorite views down the Quinientos bloc of Cab, with Pinot Noir and Sauv Blanc in the flats below.

Summer arrived stealthily this year, sometime around the first of June. The blowing , rolling fog, the highs in the 60s, the frequent 40 mph winds...just kind of petered out...and summer, beautiful summer, eased in. Most days since then have been high 90s to 100s, with a number of those followed by nites in the low 40s to high 30s. We are returning to our normal weather, just a whole lot drier than we have been in years prior to the drought beginning in 2012.

 Last blog in March showed the brilliant green"leaves of three, let them be", or poison oak. This photo shot in early June shows only a few dried stems and virtually all dried up leaves on ground...another indicator of a severe drought in progress. It also portends an early harvest.

Ah, one other thing. It is humid. Really humid....something on the order of Houston in summertime. An hours worth of work turns you into a sweat ball, something foreign to me and the dry climate we have loved since first moving here. The weather is changing, altho I am not one to say this is from global warming. Liberals seem to be convinced this is man made global warming. From where I sit in the cheap seats, the weather is just changing, something readily apparent over a long term when perusing the weather log books of farmers who have been at it for over the last 80 years. So weather changing, si, global warming, no. Although not certain about this, it is possible that the humidtiy, while unpleasant, may be here to stay. Reason? More likely than not, it is from the massive number of acres of grapes we grape growers here in the Paso AVA now have under cultivation. The 8000 acres of new plantings in 2012, just prior to the first year of drought, undoubtedly had a part to play in this, but it is the overall massive number of vines that get drip irrigated that probably accounts for the much higher humidity.

An uphill view of the semicircular Syrah bloc, from the southeast. Prior to terracing, this mountain face was climbable only with tools. Terracing has enabled us to grow awesome Syrah here, but also to keep potential fire weeds down.

A few words about our wines for those who have written and asked. The 2012 Syrah and 2012 Paso Bordo both continue to get better and better each week. However, they still have a way to go to return to barrel quality, the marker I use for bottling. Essentially when the wine in bottle no longer improves from week to week, then they are ready to drink. Altho I thought we would be drinking the '12 Paso Bordo earlier this year, that was a false start. As the weeks went by the flavors began coming in, but the bouquets are lagging. Bouquets as you all know are the sine qua non of our wines, but they do not appear until later. That is what I am waiting on at present. Flavor wise we are close to barrel quality, but bouquet wise, we still have a way to go. Just guessing, I would peg the best time to drink both would be early 2016. Guessing when a wine will be at its best is not an exact science. With the 2012 Paso Bordo I thought it would be a lot earlier than this, but wines have a mind of their own. In this case, later is better.

 June...and already note the prominent lignification (green canes turning woody/brown), indicating this Syrah will be maximally ripe thru and thru, and probably be ready a couple weeks early this year.

On another front, we have been treated exceptionally well by Wine Enthusiast magazine,   which has given our 2009 Merlot 93 points, our 2010 Syrah la Terraza bloc 93 points, and our 2010 Pinot Noir 93 points. To summarize the accolades to date:

2009 Merlot
      San Diego Intl 92 points & Intl Gold medal
      Wine Enthusiast 93 points
2010 Syrah la Terraza bloc
      San Diego Intl 94 pts & Intl PLATINUM medal.
      Wine Enthusiast 93 points
2010 Syrah el Bordo (w/ 7% 2009 Cab in it)
      San Diego Intl 92 points &Intl Gold medal
      Wine Enthusiast 91 points
      San Francisco Chronicle Gold Medal.
2011 Pinot Noir
      San Diego Intl 92 pts and Intl Gold medal
      Wine Enthusiast 93 points.

We have not yet submitted the 2012s for ratings, as they have not yet  returned to barrel quality. As noted above, I anticipate that being early 2016. If sooner, I will let you all know. I think that is it from here, but will just end with how lucky we have been to have been able to build this beautiful vineyard, which then proceeded to exceed all our expectations as to the magnificent wines it produced. To live amongst the vines, yet not have to care for them 365 days/year, is another thing entirely. Whereas I appreciated the beauty before, that is way more so now. No time off in 16 years really never bothered me. Now, however, if my knees and back permit, Teresa and I may very well be exploring and fishing the Amazon rather than doing gopher control (or weeding or pruning) in the vineyard. I will let you all know about the fall shipment when November gets closer, but almost certainly, the 3 wines will not need to be laid down, and all should have at least 2 International Gold medals or a pair of 93 points ratings in their resumes.

 Note the already huge 6" clusters, which means 12-16" at harvest and a weight of over a pound at harvest. Remember, this is into the teeth of 4 drought years.

With respect to the title, "What Hath We Wrought?"...a simple, sheer, eye catching beauty,  which has produced only International Gold medal winning wines or SF Chronicle Gold medals, or 90-94 pt wines at San Diego International competitions...We will continue to do that into the near future, providing our incredibly loyal wine club members with truly remarkable wines. Not many wine clubs provide their members with this kind quality...however, the best wine club members anywhere deserve nothing but the best.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Cerro Prieto....Frequently asked questions, also known as FAQs.

Just about this time last year, near the end of winter and beginning of spring, it was hard to tell, due to the 3 continuous years of eternal summer. Honestly, with the drought and mild falls, winters and springs, it literally seemed like 3 long 12 month summers. Which brings up recollection of a family of 5 that were here for wine tasting, but two were very young and just slept thru it. The other , a precocious young girl of 6 or so, was content to watch the wine tasting and listen to the conversation. Out of the corner of the room a little voice said, "Well if it looks like summer all the time, how do you know it is spring?" I smiled and answered her that in spring , birds start nesting, bees start coming around the flowering rosemary, and hawks start pairing up for the mating season.

Now, one year later, watching the miserable damp, wet fog roll in....and then stay...I started thinking, what if anything, reminds me of spring? So, wandering around the vineyard, I came up with a few obvious answers.

  The long 8 foot canes that had been whipping back and forth in the foggy winds, have become quiescent. Now they are still as stones, for the pruned spurs are now only 2 inches in height, and even the omnipresent wind swept fog does not make these vines move an inch. It is as if, with all the wind and fog, the vineyard itself has become tranquil and calm. THAT is spring. Prior to pruning the canes whipped around, almost like they were angry. Now, it is calm, even in the rolling fog and wind. The canes and vines are stock still. Definitely spring.
Next on the hints of spring list are the bright reddish fuchsia splotches in the shadow of the oak trees, where it is cool, damp and still. A few brave plants are in partial sun, but these beautiful red patches of spring are the flowers that belong in the mountain lilly family, known as pidicularis. These are not only beautiful reminders that spring is almost here but their description in the Mountain Wildflower book states that they grow only in mountain areas between 5000 and 7500 feet. Yet here they are at 1200 feet elevation, but obviously under the influence of a definitely mountain climate. It is because of these flowers that some years ago I realized in part why our wines were so special....because they are mountain Cabs, mountain Syrah and mountain Merlot. This is also borne out by the huge temperature splits we have day/nite, which many of you know are 70 degrees routinely but it is not uncommon for a 112 degree day to be followed by a 32 degree night. It is stresses such as these that help make Cerro Prieto such a spectacular place in which to grow massive Bordeauxs, and Syrahs.
Here is a splash of red partly in sun, but nowhere near as iridescent as those in more shaded areas.
Not far away is another splash of red in the shade and those are shown below. Note the general appearance of the well known Indian Paintbrushes , the bright orange flowers along most hiways in the SW United States. Tall brite flowers radiating out from a central stem, yet with a leaf that looks like it could be in the fern family. But no, this is Pidicularis, in full bloom.
Once up close it is spectacular to see these brilliantly reddish fuchsia flowers growing unattended, just as nature wished, wild, beautiful and unafraid. You can see the leaf that imitates a fern, but nonetheless, Pidicularis is in the mountain lilly family. It loves the hi highs and the low lows. This is it's home, here, even tho it thinks it is at 6500 feet elevation. The vineyard weather is like the hot days and frigid nites in Vail in June. Only difference is we can generate that huge temperature split at 1200 feet, not 5000-7500. And this too, is spring.
Without looking too hard or taking many steps, again there is evidence that spring is near, when tonite's salad is growing everywhere, including in our front yard. It is growing just ten feet from Pidicularis and is commonly known as Miner's lettuce, great this time of year and especially with the fog to keep it nice and juicy. The leaves melt in your mouth yet still have a tiny crunch when you bite down. Later in the year, Miner's lettuce is still growing, but if you want the good , tasty, crunchy variety, you want to eat Miner's lettuce in the early spring. As noted, when this goes great in salads, you know it is spring.
Mainly on the North face of mountainsides, are found masses of wild sweet peas. We love them in the vineyard rows because when the wither and go dormant, they return to the soil. While living, they are Nitrogen, they are little manufacturers of Nitrogen, which is great for our soils...especially our soils, which in many places is just 2 inches of dust overlying solid limestone. I am delighted to see wild sweet peas wherever they may be, because I know that portion of soil will get some naturally made Nitrogen, thus enriching the soil. Once they grow old and die there is no more Nitrogen fixing going on. So we let them live as long as they can.
Moving more in a northerly direction, before long we run into the bane of many people's existence, poison oak. When you see a plant that has 3 shiny leaves with rounded off edges, and if you look closely and see a bunch more of it, you have found the dependable harbinger of spring, the dermatologist's annuity policy, poison oak. Like the old saying goes, "Leaves of 3, let them be". By the time these bushes, vines, or plants are nice and shiny, you can give yourself a dandy case of poison oak, should you pick any. You KNOW spring is here when wherever you go in the forests around here, (and some in the vineyard too), you can find these healthy specimens of poison oak , made horribly uncomfortable by the oil on their shiny leaves and stems, urushiol.
Heading back in the direction of home, which overlooks the vineyard, again in shady areas on the N face of the mountain sides are the beautiful wild onions and wild garlic. Sometimes I get them confused, as both can have a beautiful blue flower on a long stem with huge wide leaves at the base. Each plant may have one or some many of the stalks with the peri-winkle blue flowers. If in doubt and taking some home for salad, you merely pick up the stem and when it breaks off, you smell the base. Wild onions are a bit esoteric in smell, but wild garlic you don't need to pick to know. The entire area around the plant reeks of garlic.
If by now you are not convinced that despite the early morning and evenings rolling fogs and cold, wet , damp, weather, that it is spring, one has to do no more than look outside our living room windows to the West. To the south there is a massive, steep 400 foot dropoff, but to the West from the living room, one can see that the N and W side  of the living room is about 2 feet below ground level. If we open a window, we are touching the "front yard" which is just a riotous confusion of colors, and plants, wild onion, wild garlic, Miner's lettuce, and massive clumps of orange and yellow calendulas, some with red centers, some with black centers, and some the centers are the same color as the flower, either orange or yellow. It is delightful to sit in the living room looking W and see that springtime is here because of the profusion of yellow and orange thruout the entire "front yard"...which has been left to nature to seed. Yes, it is springtime, despite the nasty cold , damp, and wet mornings and evenings.
On another note and a FAQ, or frequently asked question, is the question of "when do you open your wines when you have company coming over? Is it an hour before, 20 minutes, or what?" I have answered this before in many ways depending on how the question is asked. But basically, our big reds need to be served at room temperature, but also need to be aerated. Now, from experimenting, I have found the Big Reds,(Cab, Merlot, Syrah) to need about 6 hours to "open up". By any standards that is way too long, and if put out at 56 degrees, in 6 hrs the wine will open up but it will be close to ruined from leaving it out so long and the temperature of the wine will be near 80 degrees or more. . Answer? Open a 56 degree bottle of our Paso Bordo (or other Big Red)) an hour before dinner time, and let it just sit there. If you pour it you will miss most of the bouquet, and it will be a mediocre wine at best.  If you really want a wonderful treat, use the Venturi aerator ($49 in most wine shops) as you pour wine into each glass. The wine opens up immediately, and if you don't believe it, try with and without aeration. Wa La. Question answered. Also if you have wine left, if you cork and cool the bottle after finishing all but say 2 glasses of it, with corking and cooling, it will be better on day 2 than day one. Usually most are better the third day than the second and sometimes the best day is day four. However, if you don't cork it our don't cool it, it will die on the kitchen counter when left overnite. That's it for now, but please submit any questions if you have them. Oh, and Spring IS here, with rolling , damp, nasty fog and all.
Enjoy your wines when the majority of you get them after shipping March 30. A couple dozen folks got theirs early due to the combinations they added to their shipments.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

and then...IT RAINED

It seems like forever since showers last came. In fact it was just after Thanksgiving, with a touch in December, bringing us up to 6 whopping inches....which has been our average the past 3 years. January was the driest ever at zero inches here, few elsewhere. But finally, finally we got the promised spring rain, hopefully the first of many. It is wet out right now...sloppy, messy wet and muddy. Beautiful. Just beautiful. More rain is promised not just a followup, but later in spring also. We had a couple inches and it is so dry it hits the soil and instantly the desert, almost, except we are in the Santa Lucia Mountains and foothills, and should be getting way wetter than we are. But, thank the Lord and whoever else sent us this rain. It was desperately needed.

The late fall rains resulted in the entire vineyard being a beautiful green in all rows and around the vineyard, with wildflowers in abundance in certain areas. No more than 40 yards from our Syrah, we have Pedicularis wildflowers out already, some 2 months early. These lovely fuchsia flowers are found between 5000 and 7500 ft elevation, according to mountain wildflower books...yet here they are, not far from our vineyard in dense forest. And to think, we are only at 1200 ft elevation right here. It is just one of the many wonders and delights of Cerro Prieto....nature, flora and fauna in abundance. Saw some mountain line sign last month which meant we had deer inside the fence. I assume they left as the lion went also. A huge badger has moved a monster limestone boulder to about a 30 degree angle from the ground, making his nest. Our doormats are all in tatters as grey squirrels, mountain Jays, and a whole host of other critters are using our mats for nesting materials. No matter what you do, it is impossible to not be in awe of the life around us.

San Diego Intl Wine Competition just notified us that our 2009 Merlot which was made for the wine club ( and disappeared into the wine club) received a 92 pt Gold Medal in the intl competition. I told you all it was good...ok, fantastic. To top that off our only other entry was our 2011 Pinot Noir from the really cold year, and it took 91 pts and the Gold medal there also. So altho we have been hibernating, our wines have continued to shine for us. Which brings me to....the spring wine club shipment. Since I was out of town, back surgery, then a prolonged flu, I have not been to the winery much at all, but belatedly we did get the 2012 Cab(Paso Bordo) and the Syrah el Bordo bottled.

With a mid January bottling, our wines will not be drinkable until probably mid June, but could be ready as early as May. We don't even have a shipping date with the shipper yet, so our wines will almost surely ship later than usual. Good news is that they aren't ready to drink anyway. But in barrel, the Paso Bordo was superb, reminding a bit of the 2006 and '07. Big blackberry wine with hint of cherry, strawberry and light trace of plum in background, with  mildly toasted oak tannins. The Syrah el Bordo was perhaps even better, with  big and  plummy with finely modulated tannins and a nice hint of blackberry finish. I think I can get some strawberry at times, but we'll see in bottle.

 Sure nice to watch this from the back deck with  a cup of coffe in hand than in the vineyard fixing leaking water valve.

Usually we hold our wines until ready to drink, but this time I will release them when they will still need to lay down. As such they will be $39/btl  and our 3 pack will include the remaining $89/btl Syrah la Terraza(94 pt Platinum wine from SD Inlt competition), but sold for $69 in the 3 pak. Total for the 3 wines will be $147 and a valu pak of 3 btls of 2011 Pinot can be added for $120 (regular price $49/btl).

Shipping time is not set as yet, but count on late March or into April if we can get a slot.  Also a reminder for those who forgot last fall. If you have a new or re-issued credit card, please let me know. Also if you are working and not at home during week, please send us a new shipping address at your work. Actually to cover all bases, any change in address, phone, or cred card, please let me know.

That is it for now, and I will say it is incredibly uplifting to look out at the vineyard we created from scratch and know that we don't have to get out there and work it 7 days/week. Instead we can sit back and enjoy a fabulous glass of wine at sunset and for the first time really get to enjoy this place called home...or as many have noted, paradise. It is remarkable here at present, raining cats and dogs and absolutely beautiful out. Incidentally, a few folks have wanted to come by for tasting , but until our 2012 Cab and Syrah are ready, we will only be doing wine club business. We have been closed to the public since Dec and will stay so until wines are ready in May or June, assuming they last that long. Meantime, you all can have yours sooner. Oh, we had to filter the Cab. Once for a chance of bacteria(unwanted kind) and once more for high VA, or volatile acidity. Typically our VAs run high and in part give rise to our huge bouquets. This VA, however ,was 119, just a touch below the TTB limit of 120, so we filtered a second time also.

 A little clearing after the rains. Yup, it's wet, but we love it.
Our Syrah came to just 26 cases and the Cab came to 38 cases. We lost almost 25% to filtering, but we do this only every 5 yrs or so, so we are used to it. That said, those that want to have more than a bottle or two or those wanting cases, it is first come first served for some awesome  wine produced in the mountains in a drought. As mentioned last time, 2012 -2014 will be the best years ever for California wines, and Cerro Prieto's will be better than that.  More on wine club shipments next time when we have dates for shipping.