So, we're picking up the pieces at Tablas Creek after a storm that dropped an amazing 9.6 inches of rain on us in a little more than 24 hours. To try to contextualize how unusual this storm was for us:
- This is more than half the rainfall we received all of last winter.
- We've never received more than 6 inches in a day since our weather station was installed a decade ago, and we're pretty sure that this is the most rainfall in a day since we bought the property in 1989.
- On our 120-acre property, we received roughly 4,181,760 cubic feet of rainwater. That's more than 31 million gallons of water... enough to fill more than 52 olympic swimming pools.
- For a stretch of about 12 hours on Tuesday afternoon and evening, we were receiving about 3/4 inch of rainfall each hour.
- Winds were strong, consistently in the 25-35mph range, with the top gust topping out at 39mph.
Fortunately, the storm was very well forecast. Working through the previous weekend, we were able to bring in about 80% of what was still out, including most of our Mourvedre, Roussanne, Grenache and Counoise. We were comparatively fortunate that the hot spell in September got most of the vineyard near ripeness. If we'd had the leisure to do so, we might have left some things out for another week or ten days to get a little added concentration, but most of the vineyard was essentially ripe.
Of course, not everything came in. The blocks of Mourvedre, Grenache and Roussanne that just weren't ripe enough for us to want to use we left out. There isn't any point in bringing grapes in that you wouldn't want to make wine out of; better to take the chance of leaving the grapes out and hoping that they come through the rain OK, we get some warm sunny weather, and they reconcentrate. As I mentioned in my post last weekend, this happened for us in 2004. There are between 10 and 15 tons of grapes (the equivalent of roughly 1000 cases of wine) still out on the vines.
It's still a little early to tell whether we'll be able to use these grapes that we left out. Neil and Ryan's assessment of the storm damage is that we came through remarkably unscathed; there is some erosion damage, but not as much as we'd feared. The ground was apparently so porous and so thirsty that most of the water, amazingly, was absorbed. The morning after the storm, Tablas Creek wasn't particularly full -- an indicator that the ground absorbed most of the rainfall. With the weather forecast showing warmer, sunny, breezy conditions, it seems likely that we'll be able to wait for at least the Mourvedre and Grenache to reconcentrate.
Our yields are going to be low this year. We've brought in about 195 tons of grapes, down 22% from the already-low yields of 2008. Even if we do get another 10 tons out of the vineyard, we're still looking at making nearly 3000 fewer cases than the 15,000 that we made in 2008. That will leave us some difficult choices.
One positive that we're looking forward to: the main culprit of these last three low-yielding years is the ongoing drought. We don't have enough water to do much irrigation, and we'd prefer not to anyway. But it's clear that the vineyard can subsist on a water deficit for only so long. If this storm is the harbinger of a wet winter (as October storms have tended to be in the past) it will be a major boon for us. We'd feel better about sacrificing 1000 cases of production this year if we can look forward to regaining the 6000 cases of production we're down below our peaks from 2005 and 2006.