Monthly Archives: November 2013

Paso Robles Water Problem

First, I have to say that this problem has bubbled or maybe more appropriately gushed to the surface and if you live here in this great paradise now known as the world’s top Wine Region of the Year, you’ve probably heard more about than you care to admit.  So have I.waterdrop

Still, there it sits staring you right in the face.  Paso Robles and the entire North County of San Luis Obispo have water issues that we can’t ignore.  However, the problem is what to do?

Being honest, I have to admit, I’m not the guy who will come up with an answer here.  What my concern is, the politics of this problem appear to be outweighing actual functional debate as to what we can do about the lack of water.  Outside influences such as national news organizations either have no clue to what is going on or slant their views politically to aid a certain bias.  Even local news outlets can’t always be trusted as they too have a political bent to their coverage of the problems.  You will hear there is dialogue but then new groups are created because they didn’t have a voice.  So just how much dialogue is there?

Desert

If you’re not from California, you must understand that a large part of this state is desert or desert-like (semi-arid).  I’m originally from Southern California so I know that the Greater Los Angeles Area is a mostly semi-arid region that acquires most of their water from the Owens Valley east of the Sierra Nevada and also the Colorado River.  In a much smaller sense, the situation is similar for Paso Robles and sources of water come from different areas.

Paso Robles sits on the backside of the California Coastal Range and by the time the storms work their way across these mountains, they’re wrung out and we end up receiving less rain than you would expect given our location just 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean.  This past year, we received four inches of rain – that’s right, just four inches.  The drought has hurt our ground water levels and ratcheted up the pressure to do something now before later.

Up until the last 40 years or so, drought wasn’t as big a problem as folks relied on ground water from wells to supply the needs of citizens whether in town or rural.  However, the city has grown exponentially since the ‘70s while the farming or more accurately winemaking has exploded.  That growth needs water but we are sorely lacking in its supply.  It should be noted that grapes take less water than other traditional crops – for whatever that’s worth.  And still, the ground water levels are dangerously low.

http://www.steinbeckwines.com/

Large farms like Steinbeck Vineyards & Winery, which have their own water, produce needed jobs and income for the region.

The county placed restrictions on water usage but farmers who supply their own water needs with wells are fighting for control of their water.  Yesterday, lawsuits were filed against San Luis Obispo County for that exact claim.  Many entities battling for restrictions were surprised by the lawsuits – so the question there is: Were they engaging in dialogue or weren’t they?

Fighting back

Said Cindy Steinbeck, who was among the plaintiffs of the lawsuits, and is part of Steinbeck Wines a seventh generation vineyard,

“I’m convinced that fighting for my rights is the right thing to do, and I believe that as our seven-generation family stands up for our rights we are fighting for all other landowners in the Paso Robles groundwater basin as well.”

Earth has shown over and over that it can fix itself when no one thinks it can.  However, we must be stewards and not wasteful, drought or no drought.  Supply and demand should be part of the regulator for what happens going forward.  If water is too expensive, people will do with less or pay a premium for it.

Farms in this region like Steinbeck Wines have somewhat insulated and steadied this town from the vagaries of a Great Recession.  Whether we like it or not, this is a company town in that how goes the wine industry, so goes our local economy.

Careful what you wish for - or as another saying goes:  You reap what you sow.

Careful what you wish for – or as another saying goes: You reap what you sow.

Yes, Paso Robles has a water problem, nevertheless are rash rulings the answer?  Again, I don’t have those answers but until a fair and equitable agreement can be reached by all parties, we endanger the reasons we all live in this little paradise on the Central Coast of California.  What’s fair?  That may be the $64 million question but regardless, we must be cognizant of and balance everyone’s needs.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

http://pasowinebarrels.com/

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Current History of Paso Robles

Part 3 of 3

In our two earlier stories (see related articles below), we talked about the beginnings of Paso Robles with its connection to the mission and then how the town morphed from the Wild West into a growing viticultural area by the 1970s.

Paso Robles’ roots were still in ranching, but the land was found to be worth more growing grapes than growing grass for cattle and horses.  The soil was learned to be extraordinary and the vast diurnal between day and night time temperatures made the grapes exceptional.  Thus, the current boom blossomed.

Soil & climate made for a boom

Ranches and orchards once dotted the landscape as much as vineyards do now.

Ranches and orchards once dotted the landscape as much as vineyards do now.

I recall visiting Paso Robles in the ‘80s many times and although it was becoming obvious that big wineries were moving in, there was still vast lands that hadn’t seen grapes – or at least not yet.  That would continue to change as the town once more became a destination for visitors, whether it was for a day or a week.  The population of the town was still only 9,000 30 years ago, yet a decade later had more than doubled in size to 19,000.

About 20 years ago, the wine businesses got together and formed the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance (PRWCA) to help market the wine commerce under one umbrella and put the word out that Paso Robles was an authentic producer of different kinds of high quality wines.

Not to be outdone by the wineries, California Central Coast olive orchards have continued to expand their breadth and now have a widely popular Olive Festival every August.

Earthquake slowed but didn’t stop growth

The San Simeon earthquake of 2003 destroyed much of the old downtown buildings.

The San Simeon earthquake of 2003 destroyed much of the old downtown buildings.

The little city took a setback and no one who lives here will forget the San Simeon earthquake (just west of Paso) that had its tenth anniversary just before Christmas of 2014.  The 6.5 temblor damaged much of downtown and lives were lost with century old buildings demolished in the process.  Interestingly enough, the hot sulfur springs that had dried up many years prior, reemerged after the earthquake creating a sinkhole that only just recently was finally covered.

It should be noted in one year, from 1999 to 2000, the city had ballooned from roughly 21,000 to 25,000.  Except for a lull in ’09 during the height of the Great Recession, Paso has grown steadily passing the 30,000 mark in 2012.

#1

The area continues to be the fastest growing wine region in California and the Paso Robles AVA (American Viticultural Area) was recently named the world’s top Wine Region of the Year.  It’s estimated that there are 32,000 acres of vines growing in the Paso AVA with roughly 300 wineries.  It should also be noted that due in part to drought coupled with the increases in vineyards, water has become an issue in the area.

Paso Robles AVA

Paso Robles has quite a history and the town has changed a lot, yet kept its small town charm.  If you like the California Central Coast and love wine, scenic drives or just a quiet serene place to relax, the city that was originally established in 1889, has everything you need.  Or as they say: ‘Come for the wine, stay for the view’.

Sources: City of Paso Robles, The California Directory of Fine Wineries: Central Coast: Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, PRWCA, Paso Robles (Images of America)

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

http://pasowinebarrels.com/

Almost 200 Years Ago, The First Great American Wine Was Born

Nearly 200 years ago, during a time when Whiskey was king, there was a great wine from America.  The United States was not known for their wines in its earliest history and throughout the first half of the 1800s – yet, one of the wealthier men of his time created a great wine of its day.

Catawba Grape Vine—Vitis labrusca 'Catawba'

Catawba grapes

Nicholas Longworth was a lawyer and real estate speculator, arriving in Ohio the same year it gained statehood in 1803.  In 1813, he wanted to be a viticulturist and would become one of the very first successful vintners in American history, creating a sparkling Catawba wine from the Cincinnati, Ohio, area by 1820.

Champagne

Longworth didn’t just make wine but Champagne that became world-renown.  The Catawba grape wasn’t known as a particularly good varietal for making wine and in fact was somewhat musty.  However, the late harvest grape was hardy and could withstand the severe winters in the Ohio River Valley.

Before there was a White Zinfandel – that helped the varietal explode in popularity in California – Longworth was fermenting after the press.  The pink-hued color would have a secondary fermentation like Champagne and voila!  He had made a great-tasting sparkling wine that spread quickly in popularity.  Produced from 3,000 acres of vines, Longworth’s sparkling wines rivaled any of France’s Champagnes and were commonly sold from Europe to California.

As the years past, he was widely known for his knowledge in the horticultural circles and Longworth became very influential. He passed away during the Civil War when he was fighting both a terrible economy and fungal disease in his vineyards.

Legacy

Nicholas Longworth - circa 1860

Nicholas Longworth – circa 1860

The success of Longworth would leave a great legacy and some historians consider him the Father of American Winemaking.  The popularity of growing and making American wines helped the boom of winemaking in the Finger Lakes District which remains one of the prime wine regions in the U.S.

German immigrants then called the Ohio River Valley region Rhineland after their homeland, which was known for their wines.  Regardless, winemaking would never become a large endeavor again in the Ohio River Valley until the latter stages of the 20th Century with the advent of late-harvest offerings (sometimes know as ‘ice wines’).  Most may not know this but currently, Ohio ranks fifth in wine production nationally.

One final tidbit of information about the Catawba grape as we head into Thanksgiving Day – it was likely the grape used by native Americans when they had dinner and drank with the Pilgrims.

History can be tasty.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

Main sources: The Daily Beast, The Makers of American Wine: A Record of Two Hundred Years

http://pasowinebarrels.com/

The Other Towns Of Paso Robles AVA

Because it is the biggest and most prominent city along with being the namesake, Paso Robles can be thought of as the only town in northern San Luis Obispo County.  However, the AVA (American Viticultural Area) which was just named the world’s Wine Region of the Year has several other towns that in their own right have as much to do with the areas notoriety as Paso Robles does.

The Paso Robles wine region runs from Shandon in the east to Adelaida in the west and from San Miguel in the north to Santa Margarita in the south.  These towns are all unincorporated, yet have a distinguished and long history with the ‘North County’, as it is sometimes called.  We can’t list them all but here are a half-a-dozen towns in the Paso AVA, with a very short description of each (listed alphabetically).

Adelaida is one of the oldest and smallest areas in the Paso AVA along with being the furthest west and highest in elevation.

  • Adelaida – This is an old town that has a history going back almost as far as Paso Robles.  It was created in part by mining and was a thriving community with everything a small town could ask for, but now is little more than some crumpled old buildings.  Adelaida and vicinity has about 500 residents peppered through this hill country and sits between 1,500 and 2,000 feet elevation-wise up in Santa Lucia’s of the California Coastal Range roughly a half hour west of Paso.  With milder weather than Paso, Pinot Noir – known to be a cooler weather varietal – is said to have first received its start in the Central Coast, among the hills just west of Adelaida.
  • Creston – A very small town with little more than a 1,000 residents, it’s as well known for its ranches as any vineyards.  Many horse ranches dot the area as well as cattle, plus also orchards are not uncommon to see in between the mix of horses, cattle and grapes.  The Creston temperatures are ever so slightly warmer in Summer and cooler in winter than Paso Robles.  Some 20 minutes or so minutes southeast of Paso, the soft rolling hills of Creston and surrounding area offer an idyllic setting that is pastoral and quiet.  Rhone varietals (Syrah, Grenache, Viognier et al) are common in Creston.
  • San Miguel – Likely the oldest settlement in North County and started up by the Franciscans (Mission San Miguel Arcangel), this town of less than 3,000 is just a couple miles from the Monterey County line and less than 10 miles north of Paso Robles.  A relatively flat farming community with slight undulating hillsides, wineries can be seen in all direction around San Miguel.  The temperatures are about the same as Creston with all assorted grapes common for the area.

    With moderate temps helping, Santa Margarita has an abundance of rangeland (such as this poppy field). Due to the mild climate, the area can grow almost year around.

    With moderate temps helping, Santa Margarita has an abundance of rangeland (such as this poppy field). Due to the mild climate, the area can grow almost anything year around.

  • Santa Margarita – The quaint town of 1,500 is about as far from Paso Robles as you can get (22 miles south) and still be in the AVA.  It is just over 1,000 feet in elevation and is at the edge of the Santa Margarita Valley which was a popular place for farming 200 years ago.  Ranching is still common in this area but wine is obviously produced from this quiet corner of the world.  Just north of the Cuesta Grade and San Luis Obispo, the temperatures are very mild in comparison with any of its brethren in the Paso AVA and that allows for a longer growing season.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel are among the many wines grown in this very southern tip of the Paso Robles AVA.
  • Shandon – Somewhat like Creston but with a drier climate and further east, this cowboy and ranchland also has its fair share of wineries.  Called the San Juan Creek region at just over 1,000 feet in elevation, this town of maybe 1,500 sits on low lying hills and grasslands about 20 minutes east of Paso Robles.  With likely the driest region of all the Paso AVA, they are still able to produce robust wines including Cabernet Sauvignon on the land south and west of Shandon.

    Templeton Gap

    Templeton Gap allows cool air from the Pacific to reach inland and moderate temperatures for great grape-growing.

  • Templeton – Probably the closest and most similar to Paso Robles, the charming town of Templeton is known for the Templeton Gap where the winds come through the Coastal Range and keep things a bit cooler than Paso.  The town of Templeton has about 8,000 residents but that includes a sprawling area that reaches several miles east and west of the town which is less than 10 minutes south of Paso Robles.  Somewhat quirky, it has a very small town atmosphere and is much like Paso was a half a century ago.  Everything you can think of in wines is made in the Templeton area and in fact, many of the wineries with Paso Robles designations are actually in Templeton.

These towns are rich in history so the next time you have a chance to visit the number one wine region in the world, definitely check out these unique and charming towns who help make up the viticultural area called the Paso Robles AVA.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier 

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Paso Robles History Moves From Wild To Wines

Part 2 of 3

As we noted during the earliest years of Paso Robles, founded by James Blackburn and Drury James, the 19th Century offered up the town as little more than a respite for those traveling up and down the coast of California.  They had the sulfur mud hot springs and a train depot but for the most part, the region was ranch and farmland during the Wild West.

Jesse_and_Frank_James

Outlaws Jesse and Frank James frequented Paso Robles.

Speaking of the Wild West, as an interesting side note, notorious outlaw Jesse James was Drury’s nephew and hid out in Paso Robles at their ranch and hotel (Paso Robles Hotel), while healing from a wound in a robbery back east.  There were several tunnels and/or subterranean passages under the town and surrounding region to hideout in or getaway if spotted.  Years later, Jesse’s older brother Frank – after serving some jail time – was seen visiting his family in Paso Robles up into the early 20th Century.

Wine slowly rooted itself in the region

As time went on, almond orchards were everywhere and for an era, made the town renowned for their almond production as the ‘Almond Capital of the World’ – before the San Joaquin Valley found water.  Nevertheless, during the late 1800s, Paso had some of the first commercial wineries built – mostly Italian immigrants planted the vines with many of them Zinfandel.  This period was known as the one of the first wine booms in California.

Just prior to World War I, famous Polish composer Ignace Paderewski, while touring, used the sulfur baths for relief of his sore pianist hands and was so taken by the area that he purchased a 2,000 acre ranch.  Paderewski primarily planted Zinfandel – with his name bringing more notoriety to the region.  The Paso Robles Hotel was infamous for visits from big name dignitaries like Paderewski, who stayed there mainly for the mineral hot springs.

Cattle ranches were also huge in the surrounding area and together with orchards, vineyards and farms, the town flourished and grew.  During the early days of the Depression, the businesses started a celebration called Pioneer Day in which private donors, churches and organizations got together to give back to the community and say thank you.  Pioneer Day is still celebrated in early October every year and to this day, the event is free to all including a parade, bean-feed and many other activities.

Small until …

Camp Roberts, Ca., helped bring an influx of population to the Paso Robles area in the Mid-20th Century.

Camp Roberts, Ca., helped bring an influx of population to the Paso Robles area in the Mid-20th Century.

Paso never really blossomed in size until the Army built Camp Roberts during World War II, just a dozen miles northwest of town.  However, my father Ron remembered visiting family in Atascadero (just 12 miles south of Paso) after the war and Atascadero was by far the larger and vibrant of the two towns with Paso considered a dusty little town.  The hot springs over time dried up and it appeared Paso Robles would be nothing more than a small town, lost in the big expanse of California.

One of the few things the town was known for, the Paso Robles Hotel burned down in 1940.  However, a new Paso Robles Inn replaced it and would continue its notoriety through the years.  After World War II, the Mid State Fair took form and added another reason for coming to the little town on the eastern edge of the California Coastal Range.

Cabernet Sauvignon - West PR

Cabernet Sauvignon was planted widely 50 years ago and is now the top grape grown in the Paso Robles region.

Through the 1970s, not much changed in Paso Robles and yours truly visited here in ’73 or ’74 (it’s too long ago to remember clearly) to play football and this was a small town then with maybe 7,000 residents.  Still, during this time, there were definite signs the town had turned to wine including the addition of thousands of acres of Cabernet Sauvignon being planted.

An innovative generation of visionaries brought the town a new economy that would change Paso forever.

We’ll finish this story shortly so keep an eye out for more here very soon as Paso Robles makes history …

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier 

http://pasowinebarrels.com/

Old Is New

Sometimes we get asked, why would we take an old barrel that has some character and make it into a new decorative recycled barrel that doesn’t reflect its history.

That’s a fair question and for some folks, the old wine barrels have an attraction all to themselves, steeped in a rich history that you can visually see.  However, the battered wood is splintered, decaying and in some instances moldy along with literally falling apart.

Barrels - old and new

What’s old is new again.

That’s where we come in.  We don’t necessarily alter the barrel as much as we enhance its textures, look and structure so it can be a piece of art furniture that you can enjoy for decades.

They are sanded and stained, then sanded again and stained and then if needed, sanded once more with a couple more layers of stain and sealed.  We add some coats of varathane (urethane) to bring out the luster plus it makes it last much longer.

As you can see by the comparison picture, the difference between an old used barrel’s finish and the new recreated barrel are night and day.  We don’t really remove anything like imperfections as much as we smooth them out and then enhance their individual beauty.

When compared with the old barrel, well, there isn’t a true comparison.  The recycled and recrafted wine barrel is impressive with a classy yet unique appearance that is viewed with stunned gasps and wows by others when they see them.

If you would like pictures of some of the wine barrels we have finished, just let us know and we’d be happy to send them to you.  You can go here for an upclose on the old barrel finish – and go here for an upclose of the new barrel finish.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

http://pasowinebarrels.com/

What’s Your Favorite Red Wine?

RedWine-glassandbottle.oppChoosing a wine as your favorite for some connoisseurs is nearly impossible as they love many different types of wine.  While some aficionados might stick with just a few particular varietals, others really don’t care.  Still, when push comes to shove, there’s always a favorite type of wine you gravitate towards.  So what might that be?  And share this poll with friends, family and colleagues.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier 

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http://pasowinebarrels.com/