Take a look at this radar map, taken from the terrific site Weather Underground. Clicking on the map will make it much better resolution:
Tablas Creek is situated just south of the Lake Nacimiento marker on the map, right underneath the area of bright red that signifies the most action. And action there is. We've gotten three-quarters of an inch of rain the last hour or so, and it looks like there's plenty more behind it. Winds have consistently been in the upper 20mph range, with our top gust so far today topping out at 35mph. We're looking for two inches of rain before it's over, which would push us over 38 inches for the year. This is a classic winter storm, except that it's happening in the middle of April.
And that's a good summary of what this winter has been like. It's been frequently wet, starting early and ending late, typical of an el nino year. After three years of drought, we're thrilled. And it has certainly delayed the beginning of the growing season; according to the measurement of degree days kept by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance (which begins each year on April 1st), only 2001 and 2006 have had fewer degree days in April than this year's 36. The vineyard has responded to the cool weather and has delayed its sprouting, which is a very good thing. Two weeks after our first budbreak -- which was itself two weeks later than normal -- fully half the vineyard is still dormant, which should provide some protection should we get a frost over the next week or two.
Of course, we'd much rather avoid the frosts, and we're putting most of our efforts in the vineyard into our frost protection. Rows have been mowed to allow for easier drainage of cold air. We have our fans working every chilly nights. And the small portion (15 acres) that we can protect with overhead sprinklers are being protected. So far, so good, and each day that we don't get frosted is one day closer to the mid-May date that typically marks the end of the danger period. But we know full well that it only takes one cold night to compromise the whole vintage.
Last year's very low yields were due to the accumulated effects of three years of drought and to a damaging frost in late April. The rain this winter should take care of the drought. Now if only we can keep dodging frosts successfully for another month...