• The D Word

    February 28, 2018 14:15

    The D Word

    Drought. The word is bandied about these days as we look to the last significant month in our rain cycle. March is usually the final frontier when it comes to the rain season. If we haven’t had enough (and we haven’t) then this is the last stand to make up for the small amount we have received so far. In fact the warm weather (in the 70s) we had in February almost made our vines think it was spring.

    We’ve had between 12 and 13 inches of rain this season. Average rainfall is around 30 inches. That’s why the dreaded D-word ‘drought’ is now being used. While considered moderate we’ll need a few more inches to even get close to normal.

    From the California Department of Water Resources comes this when defining drought for our state, “California is no stranger to drought; it is a recurring feature of our climate. We recently experienced the 5-year event of 2012-2016, and other notable historical droughts included 2007-09, 1987-92, 1976-77, and off-and-on dry conditions spanning more than a decade in the 1920s and 1930s. Paleoclimate records going back more than 1,000 years show many more significant dry periods. The dry conditions of the 1920s-30s, however, were on a par with the largest 10-year droughts in the much longer paleoclimate record.”

    The great amount of rain we received in 2017, while a distant memory, is something that isn’t repeated too often. The good news is it filled up reservoirs and even recharged groundwater storage in some places which is an important if unseen effect-without underground water the wells so many of us rely on for farming would affect our ability to deliver water when most needed.

    It remains to be seen what March will bring. We all hope for more rain to give the vines and other agricultural crops the water they need.

  • Vineyard View: From Drought to Plenty

    March 10, 2017 07:37

    The phases our Mother Clone vineyard has experienced in the last five years echoes a climate pattern that reaches back 90 years ago. Soon after my grandparents bought the ranch in 1927 they experienced one of the longest droughts on record spanning 1928-1934. Our recent drought period of 4 years ended with the 75 inches of rain that we have received (so far) for the 2016-2017 season. Average rainfall typically is in the 35 to 40 inch range.

    The impact on vineyards during drought periods are pretty evident. The vines protect themselves and lower production of fruit in order to survive. If they didn’t cut back then depletion within the vine system would do more harm, nutrients would be lost and quality compromised. If there are diseases in vines like a virus it is even more evident in the fall as bright red leaves shows the stress. As farmers during the recent drought we were on strict conservation measures and gave ‘just enough’ water to each vine, trying to keep a balance between the two extremes.

    The state of California has been measuring precipitation over 2 centuries. In studying the data, it shows the climate patterns we have experienced and the devastation that follows. “Droughts and floods can occur in close proximity. For example, the flooding of 1986 was followed by six years of drought (1987-92). At the beginning of the state's historical record the so-called "Noachian" floods of winter 1861-62 were followed by two severely dry years.” As quoted from California department of Water Resources on their website.

    We have had 5 historical droughts in the last 90 years and each one of them made their mark on agriculture. Once again I’ll point to the circular nature of climate. We do not live in a world where we can control the elements and are dependent on the weather each and every year-even when one season mirrors another it can be very unpredictable. A toast to both sides of Mother Nature-the extreme of drought to the overabundant rains we have had, so far.

    Mother Clone Vineyard, March 2017. You can see the startling difference when you scroll down.

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    We had our own kind of dust bowl in 2014.

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  • Counting Raindrops

    January 8, 2016 18:19

    I have become somewhat of a water watcher these days digging around the internet for stories about the drought and reading articles about El Nino. Looking up the archives I see I wrote about the average rainfall for Dry Creek Valley being around 35-40 inches of rain. The last three years of the drought we have seen just above half or in other years even less.

    According to a couple of websites I frequent, The Sonoma County Water Agency and University of California Cooperative Extension Sonoma County, I see some good news as El Nino drops this much needed rain. Right now we are within 2 inches of what is considered normal rainfall for this area at this time(SCWA data). Secondly we are far above January totals in the first 7 days than we have been over the last three winters (2013-2015) with the measurement taken from Santa Rosa to the south of us. It is close to 3 inches through today when the most that dropped in the three previous years for the whole month was between .02 inches to .89 inches (UCCE data).

    Right now the vineyard soil is becoming saturated-I heard it percolating yesterday during a respite after four days of rain. More is expected in the next week but not to the extent of what we have received so far. As heart breaking as it was to see dusty vineyards for the last three January's this year there is plenty of vegetation and such a relief to see the hills green again. Canyon Creek which flows through our winery on down to our vineyards along Dry Creek itself had enough water to flow all the way to our main water artery to the Russian River and on to the Pacific Ocean itself. A splash of Zinfandel in my Dino as I enjoy the soggy view!

    January 2014 our Mother Clone vineyard was as dry as a bone. Once we had some rain it turned our hillsides green.

    MC Zin Vineyard comparison

  • Rain! (1)

    January 6, 2016 18:25

    Rain-it’s in the forecast as an El Nino year. How much so far? We have measured 13.8 inches by the 4th day of January with another 4 as this is written. More is expected as several storms pass over us. The headlines I read keep saying this isn’t the end of the drought-no kidding. Remember the phrase ‘It ain’t over ‘til it’s over’? I’ll be waiting for the next 6 months when the official rainfall is recorded for the year in order to know where we stand.

    The ‘Dry Creek’ of Dry Creek Valley ran dry in the years preceding the formation of Warm Springs Dam and Lake Sonoma, the body of water created by the dam and is situated to the north of us. Built in the early 1980s, it was put in place to provide flood control, irrigation and recreation. The recent years of drought created low lake levels which plummeted even more since water is released year ‘round. As of January 4 I am happy to report it is 70% of capacity but below the usual average. I have provided a link in case you are interested in the comparison between this year’s capacity, last year’s total as well as 2005-2014. Like I said earlier, the season isn’t over yet. In fact it has just begun and right now the future looks pretty wet. A toast in my Dino to more rain!

    My uncle John standing in flood waters circa 1950s-it isn't this bad yet but Canyon Creek does run through our property all the way down to Dry Creek and sometimes it can overflow its' banks even as recent as two years ago.

    1950 John in Flood

  • Concerning Water: A Delicate Balance

    April 13, 2015 13:54

    It is a delicate balance indeed when we, as farmers first before vintners, depend on the weather to bring the right amount of rain at the right time. This doesn’t always happen and there are many examples over the 87 years we have farmed our vineyards when we didn’t have enough, had too much or it rained at an inopportune time i.e. during harvest. And water in California during the fourth year of drought is one hot topic. In our area of Dry Creek Valley we depend on wells and those wells depend on 35-40 inches of average rainfall that fills the underground caches as well as keeps the soil drenched. The last four years have been challenges with one half or less of the average amount and surprisingly the harvests from 2012-2014 have been abundant. We’ll see how this vintage goes-it isn’t over until we have picked our last grapes. But I digress. Being sustainable means having a plan for water. Over the years we have shifted from dry farming to overhead irrigation to a drip system which delivers a regulated flow of water when needed. Now during these dry years the vines will show some stress which means the canopy as well as the developing fruit crop will be affected. Before that happens the vineyard manager watches and decides when to apply water. Remember we have 100+ acres of vineyard so it is a challenge to say least that each and every vine is tended to properly. The great part of drip irrigation is it allows control-we get to decide how to efficiently deliver the right amount to keep fruit quality at optimum levels. Most growers use some form of irrigation and the sustainable focus is to understand the delicate balance of such a limited natural resource. And too much water is just as bad as too little. Conservation is on many a Californian’s mind especially the California farmer. We’ll do our utmost in sustaining our vineyards with an eye to conserve for the future generations. Now a glass of vino is in order.

    Drip irrigation on the Home Ranch vineyards.

    Home Ranch Vineyards

  • Canyon Creek Rising

    December 11, 2014 12:30

    This day will truly go down in the books as an answer to the many prayers for rain. 5 inches overnight. And a few more inches today. While the drought is nowhere near over, this is a good healthy addition to our annual rainfall. Canyon Creek begins just north of us and runs through our Home Ranch as well as our East Side Vineyards, a mile west on Dry Creek Road. Part of it goes underground beneath the fermentation buildings, crush pad and bottling warehouse. Sometimes when we have this type of deluge it runs over. Today was one of those days—it flowed through our yard and partly into our cellar and warehouse. It even ran over Walling Road. The crew had their hands full cleaning up and trying to stay ahead of the storm. In the photo below, taken in the 1950’s, my uncle John is standing in the yard just outside of our cellar. As you can see, Canyon Creek spilled over then, the same as it has in every large storm. We’ll keep an eye on our hillside vineyards-sometimes they’ll slip with this much rain. Overall this is the relief that we were looking for-just all at one time. Grab your glass and toast the bounty of rain and 87 years of weathering storms.

    While we didn't see this much water through here today, Canyon Creek is known to crest pretty high. John Pedroncelli, circa 1950s.

    John in flood