Why this week's early-season storm is the ideal start to our winter season
November 10, 2022
This week, we had our first serious storm of the winter roll through Paso Robles. It started late Monday night, reached its peak with the passage of a cold front around 8am Tuesday morning, and continued with showers throughout the rest of that day and night. Overall, we got about an inch and three-quarters of rain. Although we did have about a half-inch of rain in mid-September, harvest rain comes with a mix of positive and negative impacts which combine to make it hard to enjoy. Not so the first rain after we've finished picking, which is an unmitigated good. At this point, with the vineyard put to bed for the winter, we're able to sit back and enjoy the show.
The passage of that frontal boundary between 8am and 9am saw some of the fastest accumulation of rain I can ever remember out here, with nearly three-quarters of an inch coming down in that one hour. I was doing a Zoom call from home, and couldn't believe what I saw when I checked our weather station:
If you're wondering what it means for a vineyard to be put to bed for winter, there are a few things we always do after we're done picking. The most important of these are planting the seeds for our cover crop and spreading compost so that they have the best chance to thrive. Last year, our first storm came early enough in mid-October that we were only partway done seeding at the time, and then when it dried out enough for us to get back into the vines, it was dry for six weeks and we lost many of the seeds to birds. Not this year; we expect to see shoots of green within a week in blocks like this one:
The couple of inches of rain weren't limited to the Paso Robles area. The entire length of California got significant rain, and one of the storm's most important impacts is that it ended the state's fire season. We've been pretty lucky this year, with no major fires impacting California wine. But knowing the state got enough rain to put an end to any worries about future storms is always a relief.
By yesterday afternoon the storm had moved to our east, leaving puffy clouds, plenty of sun, and dark brown earth. I got this picture a little north of us in southern Monterey County, on my way back from a quick trip north. There's not much more beautiful than California after it rains:
What has followed in the storm's aftermath has been good too. It dropped below freezing last night, which will push the vines fully into dormancy. That's a good thing. The vineyard this morning showed frost-covered grape leaves under a bright blue sky:
Of course, we need more rain than this. But November is off to a good start. Our long-term average is 2.48" of rain for November, and at 1.89" we're already more than three-quarters of the way there, with the month only one-third complete. But as we learned last year, a wet beginning to the rainy season isn't enough. The four-month period between December and March account for three-quarters of our annual rainfall, historically. But that's not to say that early rain doesn't matter. It does. And the amount we got is perfect for getting our cover crop to germinate, should extend the season when we can have our flock of sheep grazing the vineyard, and will give the soil's microbial and fungal activity -- which needs moisture to operate -- an instant boost. So while we definitely need more, we're happy we've gotten what we did, when we did. Now let's keep it going.