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:
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:
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:
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.