A welcome, gentle start to the Paso Robles rainy season
A Horizontal Retrospective Tasting of the 2014 Vintage at Age 10

Winter means the best vineyard sunsets

It feels strange for this Vermont-raised kid to say, but I've become a fan of clouds. There are months that go by here in Paso Robles where you don't see any, and as nice as that probably sounds to those of you blanketed in snow and ice at the moment, it does get old, with the sun feeling like the eye of Sauron by late summer.

But with the advent of fall comes winter weather systems making their way through California. If that happens at the end of harvest, it can be nerve-wracking. But usually it's not a problem here and we're grateful for the moisture. Visually, the combination of shorter days and clouds in the sky means great sunsets. Over the last three months I've been trying to take a walk around the property at dusk each week so I could document the vineyard's transition from fall to winter. If you've been following our social media, you've likely seen several photos from these rambles. But I've also been storing up some sunset pictures that I've loved, and have put them together in this blog. I'll divide them up into three sections, in chronological sequence. First, some shots from the first rain of the year, in mid-November. The color palette is still that of fall, with the leaves still on the vines and the golden hue of dried grasses emphasized by the intense orange glow of the setting sun:

Fall sunset over Mourvedre ex-Chard

Another shot from later that same evening caught the sun reflected off our solar array:

Fall sunset over solar panels

Fast-forward a month to mid-December, and the rain we had received in the intervening month had changed the color settings from summer's gold to winter's green, except that it had been mild enough that there were still leaves on many of the hillside vineyard blocks. This is one of my favorite color combinations to catch, and it's so fleeting that many years -- when we get a hard freeze before it rains -- it doesn't happen at all:

Winter sunset over new green grass

In addition to catching the light, one of the other things that the clouds do is give depth to the layers of mountains to the west of us. In the summer, it's so dry here that it's hard to know whether the peaks of the Santa Lucias are a mile away, or five, or ten. But the moisture in the winter air brings their parade of peaks and valleys into clearer contrast:

Winter sunset over Mourvedre and Santa Lucia Mountains

While in December the tops of our hills still had leaves, the lower areas had seen a few freezes already. That made the grapevines in those blocks -- like this head-trained Counoise vine -- stand out in stark contrast to the green grass and theatrical sky:

Winter sunset over Counoise

Now, in January, the whole vineyard is dormant and the grass has had another month to grow. This scene won't change much for the next three months, except that the cover crop will have periodic trimmings as the flock of sheep move through, and the wild unruliness of last year's tangled canes gives way to orderly patterns as we come through to prune. This is a photo we shared over the weekend on our social media, taken about 20 minutes after sundown thanks to the iPhone's remarkable ability to render in low light. We're looking north, down between hillside Muscardin and Bourboulenc blocks, over head-trained Tannat and Cinsaut in the valley, and then back up over Grenache and Counoise. It's my favorite view of the property, though it's not one I think I've taken before this deep into dusk:

Winter rendering after dark
I'll leave you with one of my favorite shots from that same session, looking west instead of north. The last light of the western sky silhouettes the dormant Mourvedre canes, one of our owl boxes, and the incoming storm front that would eventually go on to drop an inch of rain on us. 

Winter sunset and dormant vines

Happy winter, everyone.