Chronicling a Year in the Southern Rhone
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A welcome wet start to Spring

In an ideal world, we wouldn't receive five inches of rain on one of our three busiest tasting room weekends of the year.  But we're not complaining.  We're now up over 31 inches of rain for the winter, topping last year's total with still six weeks to go in our rainy season.  And the vineyard looks wonderful, with the cover crop lush and green and the ground water ample as the vines are poised to come out of dormancy.


A little more wet, cool weather would be welcome over the next few weeks; we know that we're at risk of frosts into mid-May, and the colder it is at the beginning of the spring, the later the vines will sprout and the fewer frosty nights we'll hold our breaths hoping to escape damage.

Even better, the rain didn't appear to keep people away; we welcomed nearly 500 people through our new tasting room yesterday, the Saturday of the annual Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival.  That number was up about 10% compared to last year.

The rain started out light yesterday, turned moderate in the afternoon, and intensified after dark.  And it was intense.  I called our weather station for an update at 10pm, and we'd received 1.3 inches of rain for the day.  When I called again this morning, yesterday's total had spiked to 2.9 inches, and we'd already received 2 inches today.  You've probably already done the math necessary to figure that for the two hours before midnight we were receiving nearly an inch of rain per hour.

I've never seen Tablas Creek so flush with water, and there was evidence (gravel and sticks washed into the middle of the road) that it was higher last night than this morning.  Tiny creeks were noisy with rushing water, and any low-lying area held a flowing stream.  It's probably hard for visitors used to seeing Paso Robles in the dry summertime to imagine this green landscape of streams and springs, but it's my favorite time of year, and necessary for the vineyard's short-term productivity and long-term health.  It looks like we'll be able to dry farm again this year.

I took a drive out to the vineyard this morning to see whether we'd washed away in the heaviest rain last night, and took some photos of what I found.  First, what is normally a dry grassy valley heading out of Halter Ranch.  This flows under Adelaida Road and into Tablas Creek, though it looked like at least at some point last night it was flowing over Adelaida Road.


And Tablas Creek itself, which has been flowing all winter but only slowly of late, is now loud and full:


The vineyard itself doesn't show any signs of damage from the rain.  That's one good thing about late-season storms; the cover crops have had plenty of time to grow and we don't worry about erosion anywhere but on the roads.  One shot of the bright green cover crop, the dark brown dormant vines and the misty gray sky.  The prunings from the vineyard are still in the middle of the rows, not yet collected for chipping into our compost pile:


The cover crop is a mix of the plants that we seed for (including peas, oats, vetch and clover) and native winter flora.  Below are two closeups; on the left is a photo of several of the native plants growing up through the prunings, and on the right some of the oat grasses with droplets of water on them.

Post-rainstorm_0008  Post-rainstorm_0009

As for the roads, there was a little water running down the sides, but no damage.  I had brought Eli (who is almost 6) out with me, and he was fascinated by the shapes that the water made around the pebbles and mud.  He took a photo that illustrates nicely how little runoff we had:


I was worried a bit about all the new plantings that we put in around our new tasting room over the last few weeks, but needn't have been.  Everything appears to have drained as planned, and a little stone waterfall just inside the front gate was splashing merrily:


We're thrilled with the winter we've had.  It was wet early, which allowed the ground water to penetrate deeply, warm in the middle, which encouraged good cover crop growth, and has been cold and (now) wet late, which should ensure that the vines sprout late and the soils have ample moisture for the growing season.  And there's more in the forecast; even as I've been writing this blog post it's started raining again, and we're supposed to get another few soakings before the end of the week.

This storm's arrival on Zin Fest may not have been ideal.  But as a first-day-of-spring gift, we'll take it.  Happily.