A Tale of Two Grenaches
Animal Farm: The Benefits of Biodiversity in the Vineyard

A Dry (but Picturesque) Beginning to the 2011-2012 Winter

In the post The unwelcome implications of another la nina winter for Paso Robles vineyards from early December, I worried that our winter would be cold and perhaps dry, neither of which are desirable for the 2012 vintage.  It appears that, at least so far, it has been even drier, and even colder, than we'd expected.

December was one of the driest on record in Paso Robles, with just 0.46 inches of rainfall so far this month and no prospects of more before the new year.  By contrast, last December saw 10.34 inches of rain, and an average December since 2005 brought us 4.36 inches of rainfall.  The chart below will give you a sense of just how unusual this December has been.  It only covers the last seven years, because that was as far back as the data archive on the Tablas Creek weather station.  I'd have preferred a longer date range, but its averages probably aren't far off given that it includes two drought years (2006-2007 and 2008-2009), two wet years (2009-2010 and 2010-2011) and two more or less normal years (2005-2006 and 2007-2008):

WinterDecember RainfallRainfall YTD end of Dec.
Final Winter Rainfall
2011-2012 0.46 4.76 ?
2010-2011 10.34 14.26 36.42
2009-2010 5.81 15.68 36.86
2008-2009 3.51 5.53 14.85
2007-2008 4.02 5.52 24.18
2006-2007 2.70 3.51 9.84
2005-2006 3.65 4.06 28.31
Average 4.36 7.62 25.08

For all that our December has been exceptionally dry, our year-to-date rainfall is within range of what we've seen in four of the last six winters.  But I was struck, as I went back in the archives of old forecasts for late December, how many of them forecast remarkably wet weeks, with multiple inches of rain.  It's not supposed to be sunny and nice for Christmas in Paso Robles, as it is now.  It's supposed to be stormy and wet.  And our long-term forecast is not predicting any rain even in the 8-10 day out range.

A year which gives me some hope is 2005-2006, which is the last la nina pattern before 2010-2011.  That year, we got 24 inches of rain after December.  In last year's la nina winter, we got 22 inches of rain in the new year.  If we get something like that this year, I'll be thrilled.

Meanwhile, I took an afternoon just before Christmas to prowl around the vineyard and see how things look.  This isn't usually much fun at this time of year because of the clay and mud; you either get stuck out in the vineyard or sacrifice a pair of shoes in the effort.  But this year, no problem. First, one of my favorite photos, of Mourvedre vines, bare in the sun, showing the contours of the vineyard in the setting sun:


The principal work in the vineyard after harvest is to seed the cover crop.  You can see the neat lines from the seeder between rows of Roussanne:


The next photo shows the cover crop closer-up.  Typically, at this time of year, it's several inches deep already.  This year, it's just getting started:


The colors are still beautiful, more fall-like in their oranges and browns than winter-like in their greens and blacks:


The bare, unpruned vines make wild patterns that play in the light:


Finally, two shots taken by Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Magnusson on one of our many frosty mornings.  We've seen below-freezing temperatures 20 of the 27 nights so far this month.



May your December days be full of sunshine.  If you have clouds, send them our way!