Saturday, February 15, 2014

Cerro Prieto .... and the Eternal Summer

37 years here, and never have I seen an eternal summer. OK, to be fair, Teresa and I were gone the first 10 days of December, when the Easterlies blow over the smoky air from the burning of massive piles of stone fruit and nut tree prunings in the San Joaquin Valley. The smoky, smoggy air seeps into the Salinas River valley, and within 2 days we are covered up in stinky, smelly smoke. One would think some politician from the San Joaquin Valley would pass legislation requiring wood chippers to dispose of their unimaginably massive piles of prunings, but no such luck. Anyway we missed the first 10 worst days of smoke by getting a tiny cabin in Santa Barbara....normally nice, tropically warm, and wonderful air. Oddly, Dec 6th and 7th got unseasonably cold and altho I noted it, forgot it until we returned home a  week later. First thing I checked on the bright sunny days were the hi-lo thermometers...of which 6 of the 7 read Dec 6 and 7th, 1 degree and 2 degrees. The highs were all mid 70s to 80s, but the and two degrees...that concerned me.

The air had cleared perceptibly, and the days were, summer. I checked vines from all segments of our vineyard, peeling off the bark, and removing down to cambium. Good news was that all appeared fine. Still, the 1 degree bothered me, and I had no idea how long that 31 degrees below freezing had lasted. If it froze hard for 48 hrs, then we were going to lose some vines. Then I checked for other telltale signs, and found none. Having been thru this once before, the next order of business was to sit tight for 3 weeks and then check the most likely choices for gum and ironwood eucalyptus plus certain wild sages and lavenders.

Sure enough, 3 weeks later virtually all the 60-80 foot tall blue gums and Ironwood eucalyptus leaves died, and checking our wild lavenders and sages, they did also. So it had gotten to 1 degree, and it had maintained that at least a day...maybe two. Rechecking the vines again, I found just a handful of fully exposed vines showing signs of freeze burn, but the vines looked fine.

Several posts back I mentioned our "lack of water" situation, thruout Paso and much of S. California, and that remains intact...or rather, without water. We began watering our vineyard in early Jan, to try an catch up for the last yr of drought (6") and this year's rainfall.... 1/6 of one inch to date. For farmers around here, one has to go back decades, long before we arrived to find a drier year than this. Nonetheless, I look outside the living room window and see tulips, mums, narcissus, and crocus all peeking thru the dirt. If that isn't amazing....well, nothing is.

Back to the unending summer, minus those two days of severe freeze we missed, the days have all been in the 70s or 80s in the afternoons...altho mornings are somewhere in the 20s to low teens at nite. There was one other fake out hint of winter last week when they got torrential rains in Sacramento and Bay area, we got our 1/6" of drizzle. Actually it was much more like a London mist than anything else. Some would call it a gentle farmer's rain, which almost always is then followed by a good 4-6 " of drenching rains, virtually all just sucked up by the soil. Nope, not so here. We got our 1/6" drizzle and that was it. NOTE: Rains here are ALWAYS in the winter, so the rain could have been a winter marker, but no way.

So now we have pruned, extremely wary of early budding out which if pruning hasn't been finished, results in most buds being broken off during the pruning. We actually had the cottony like fluffs in many places, right now, the 15th of February, with another month of really cold weather expected. But with the afternoons sitting in the 70s and 80s, I will have to be honest, I flat out have NO idea of what is in our immediate future. Bad thoughts would be late freezes, wiping out the early bud breaks, or worse, I guess, later freezes in mid May to mid June, would wipe out the bloom entirely. Unnnhhh....without saying, that would scotch our crop for this year.

The old farmer's axiom that I learned when first farming barley some 37 yrs ago was pretty close to spot on. If you want to farm, make it easy on yourself and go to Vegas and gamble all your money on one roll of the dice. You would get better odds there than farming for a living. There's a lot of truth in that, but then we farmers, whether grapes, hay, beans, wheat, or nuts....somehow, we all feel that we will survive, we will have light years, heavy years, poor yrs and great yrs. But somehow, the farming bug is ingrained in us all and regardless of the circumstances, all farmers have positive outlooks, and always seem to come back for more.

As for Cerro Prieto this year, if we can continue to keep putting water onto the vines, rain or not, we will survive. Thank God we are on the W side of Hiway 101, because those poor folks depending on the massive underground Paso Robles Aquifer, have seen their wells drop 80, 120, 200 feet. Here we continue to remain fine, as we don't have thousands of acres of grapes competing for our precious water. The E side has 8000 acres of new vines this past year alone, and the damage and well wrecking has already been chronicled. My view for this coming year will be a short year tonnage wise, but a fantastic year for flavor and bigness, boldness. We continue to keep our fingers crossed but the massive well we have in the vineyard is what will ultimately save our bacon. I have many friends, former patients, fellow farmers on the E. side of Paso that will not be so lucky.

And please, those clubmembers that have been inundated by record rains and snows, I pray you wish all that watery abundance our way.  That's it from here, but one reminder:

March 17 is our wine club shipment date, which this time will be a familiar wines to you all. We call it the SF Chronicle Gold and Silver basket. Our intent is to ship the 3 winners of the SF Chronicle wine competition :

SF Chronicle Gold      2010 Syrah El Bordo
SF Chronicle Silver    2010 Syrah (la Terraza bloc)
SF Chronicle Silver    2009 Cabernet (Paso Bordo)

Price for these 3 winners from the largest American wine completion in the world is $126 for wine(not including tax or shipping)

and 20% less for a 2nd identical 3 pak, (cost of wine only $100).  For those wanting both paks(6 btls) the total would come to $226 for these  SF Chronicle award winners(plus S & H).

We have to have our order into our shipper by March 3rd, so we will be billing credit cards a week earlier. If you have any special requests, please let me know well in advance, but we assume most will stick to the 3 or 6 btl orders of wines that competed primarily with similar wines from Napa. Only difference is about $100/btl. ( note: we have blind tasted against similar Napa wines and come up with spectacular wines chosen by SF Chronicle as truly remarkable).

My best to you all,
Larry, Teresa, and Sombra...and again, please pray for rain for us. We are in need.

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