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February 2013
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April 2013

Balanced on the tipping point between winter and spring

This time of year in the vineyard is unique. The mild days, deep blue skies and warm sun give evidence of the summer to come, but the frosty nights, bright green cover crop and bare vines give evidence of the winter past.

It's one of the busiest times of year in the vineyard, as we finish the pruning, get the cover crop disked, spaded or mowed, and start our frost protection.  You can see the overlapping seasons and the work in progress more clearly now than at any other time of year.  A photo, taken from behind our spader, gives you a sense of the newly turned under earth (in front) and the areas we haven't gotten to yet (to the right):

Spader at rest

We need to bring the cover crop under control for a variety of reasons.  With the winter's rain and its associated risk of erosion largely in the rear-view mirror, it's time to eliminate the vines' competition for the soil's available water. It's also important to knock down the cover crop and allow the cooler air at the surface to drain downhill rather than having it pool around the vines and cause frost damage. Finally, returning the cover crop to the soil renew's the earth's fertility and provides nutrients for the vines to draw on the rest of the year.  Depending on how rich the soil already is we'll choose to either mow the grasses and leave them to dry or disk or spade them into the earth. All this has to happen in the next six or so weeks, and with 105 acres under vine, most of it on rugged hillsides, it's a long task.

I climbed to the top of the hill that overlooks our nursery buildings, where the contrast is stark between the unpruned Chardonnay vines with their thick cover crop and the pruned Roussanne vines, neatly spaded in the last week.  A one-minute video tells the tale better than the proverbial thousand words:

I'm sure we'll be sharing many photos in coming weeks and months of the newly sprouted vines and the 2013 growing season that is rapidly approaching. This is where it all begins.

The stunning 2013 wildflower season

I've never seen a wildflower season like this one.  Whether because of all the sun we've had the last two months, because of the work we've been doing with biodynamics to help build up the soil's health, or something else entirely, these couple of weeks before the vines burst from dormancy are a study in beauty and contrast: warm sun and wintery brown vines. Deep green grasses and yellow and orange flowers. Cool -- even frosty -- mornings and warm afternoons.  The result is spectacular:

Over coming weeks we'll be getting the vineyard ready for the the growing season, disking and spading in the cover crop to build the soil's fertility, finishing the pruning on our last few unpruned blocks, and generally bringing the wild growth of winter under control to allow the vines to grow in an orderly way throughout the summer.

But I'll be enjoying this next month... and if you're coming to Paso Robles in that time, be sure to ask for the tour and not just content yourself with a visit to the tasting room.  If you need a little more convincing, a few photos will hopefully do the trick.  Click on a photo to enlarge it.




Wildflowers_March2013_0003  Wildflowers_March2013_0006

If you're used to Paso Robles' summer golden hillsides, let this be your invitation to enjoy our late winter hillsides that are gold... for a different reason.

We finally get a little rain, and celebrate

Stormy skies mar 2013

Looking at our rainfall totals for this winter could cause whiplash.  We booked over 12 inches by the year's end, but since then, the storms we've had have been duds.  We totaled barely an inch in January and less than half an inch in February.  The graphical view:

Rainfall Chart Winter 2012-2013

Now we're getting down to the end of the time of year in which we look forward to rain.  Once we get into April, rain is typically followed by frost and therefore causes more problems than it solves.  But we've got another few weeks before even our earliest budding variety has come out of dormancy, and yesterday we got our first decent rainfall since late January -- a little more than half an inch -- with more expected tonight.

Rainfall at this time of year is critical for several reasons.  Most critically, it's now that the soils absorb the moisture that they'll hold for the vines' roots to access during the growing season.  Rainfall also helps wash in nutrients that we add through copost or other natural fertilizers, helps clear out any salts that have accumulated in the topsoil during the drier months, and allows the vigorous growth of our cover crop.  And as it doesn't rain in the summer in Paso Robles, we have to have our rainfall in the winter months.  You can see that there was enough moisture in the ground from our early-season precipitation to allow for a healthy cover crop:

Cover crop march 2013

Tonight's storm is forecast to drop perhaps another inch of rain on us, and the long-term forecast today was hopeful that a progressive weather pattern was setting up for mid- and late-March, with the chance of rain from a series of storms.  It would be most welcome.

It's worth pointing out that for all that we need the rain, we're comparatively well off when you look at the rest of Paso Robles.  The storms that we've received, particularly those in December, were much wetter toward the coast.  We always get more rainfall than other, lower and more easterly areas within Paso Robles, but it's been even more extreme this year than normal.  We've received twice the total of the next-wettest weather station (in the Templeton Gap) and more than triple what the Estrella Plateau heartland of Paso Robles has seen:

Rainfall Chart Paso Robles Winter 2012-2013

If you're interested in a more detailed (and more cartological) picture of how the rainfall differs within the Paso Robles AVA you might check out my post A Closer Look at Paso Robles' Microclimates from last year.

Will we get enough tonight to move the needle?  I hope so.  Even after last night we're only at half of our normal annual rainfall.  Still, we're not panicking.  Our lowest-ever total came the winter of 2006-2007 and the wines we made in 2007 were some of our most impressive ever.  But that won't stop us from doing a little rain dance this afternoon.  And if you wanted to do one for us, we wouldn't complain.