Daily Archives: January 23, 2015

Losing Paso Robles Water?

We’ve opined on these pages before about water problems plaguing Paso Robles including drought and who has the rights to the water in the first place. Now, the region may be losing their rights to a huge ground water reservoir in the North County to eastern academics 3,000 miles away.

Harvard

Harvard’s Widener Library

Harvard University, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, endowment arm has been quietly buying up land and the rights to water pumped from that ground for investment purposes. This isn’t the first time we heard about this, but it appears the Ivy League school has not lost steam in purchasing giant parcels and grabbing hold of the water pumped from said properties.

Harvard Management Company buying up the Central Coast 

Roughly a year ago, reports surfaced Harvard Management Company was acquiring real estate on California’s Central Coast. Whether it was the stories about drought and how Paso Robles had this huge natural underground aquifer or perhaps the fact the region was crowned the world number one wine region, regardless, land was being gobbled up throughout the area. From Santa Barbara, to San Luis Obispo and Monterey Counties, mostly rural properties were being bought on a steady basis, on behalf of Harvard – though all entities involved, would not corroborate the information.

And from all indications, none of these acquisitions were great farming deals, meaning, there had to be an alternative reason for the purchases. Betting on the potentially liquid gold underneath the surface had to be the only logical reasoning behind these procurements.

Brodiaea-Shandon-vineyard

The wine industry is in a boon of sorts in Paso Robles, and certainly the city is by most accounts, a company town in that viticulture has a hold on the region. There is little influence in the region by the behemoth population centers of Greater L.A. and the Bay Area. The region is somewhat protected by the huge expanse of farming land to the north and mountains to the south. With vineyards and to a lesser degree, orchards, planted on a lot of the existing farmland, the area is filtered and isolated from big city expansion and manipulation.

However, there’s no stopping someone from coming in and paying top dollar for land, so they can be in command of the water down below. Those in favor of a water district for Paso Robles, are indirectly helping outside investments, which brings with it the concern of powers-to-be outside the cities purview may gain control of the water below.

Harvard Memorial Hall - Wikipedia

The halls of Harvard academia might be trying to influence farmland 3,000 miles away on Central Coast of California.

School’s admitted strategy

Last spring, the Harvard Crimson, the schools daily newspaper, reported that investments from the Harvard’s endowment portfolio were being made through a company called Brodiaea, for the expressed strategy of investing:

“in natural resources by purchasing millions of dollars’ worth of vineyard land in central California,”

The investments then in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties were $61 million while acquiring about 10,000 acres, though again, no comments were forth coming, yet it was generally thought that the move was a “water play”. That’s hearsay and probably not compelling enough. Then consider this: Harvard’s own business school did case study in 2009 on water and farming resources in California.

Ground recharge has been a problem here in Paso Robles with some shallow wells drying up in small subdivisions as well as farms. The three-year drought has been to blame, but the fact is, there is still a sea of water below called the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin. Created by the Salinas River, it’s one of the largest natural aquifers in the country. Purportedly to save what water remained, San Luis Obispo County took away the rights of landowners so they could stop all new water wells from being drilled. This means for now, only those who have existing well and vines, can continue to water their crops. Those lands are what the secretive Harvard endowment is buying up.

“In vino veritas”

There may not be a lot of ‘truth’ coming from Harvard regarding investments in the vineyards – and water – of Paso Robles.

This brings us back to who is becoming the regions largest landowner and grape-grower: Harvard Management Company. There’s still no word from Brodiaea, who is handling the acquisitions and management of this farming land.

The weather has been inconsistent so far this season with a much wetter than normal end of fall, but a more typical drought-like situation during the first month of winter. We should see rain coming back into the picture next week and forecast claim the rest of winter should be wet. Whether that has any bearing on Harvard’s investments or not; many will likely be watching. Nonetheless, how outside influences such as these affect Paso Robles or not, could hinge on both the climate of weather and business … and how much water is in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin.

There’s a famous Latin phrase that many here in the world of wine are familiar with that says: ‘In vino veritas’ (in wine there is truth). Harvard’s motto is ‘veritas’ meaning truth. Will Paso Robles lose their water? It remains to be seen how much truth comes out of these circumstances.

Additional sources: Mercator Research

Veritas,

Daryle W. Hier

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Worlds Oldest Barreled Wine – What Is Old, Is New Again

In search of older used barrels that have outlived their life, it’s not uncommon to see some vintners hold their wine in barrels for up to a decade … or more. Most of the barrels we receive at Paso Wine Barrels are six to eight years of age. Wine might be stored in a barrel for that long or possibly two or even three vintages could have been processed through a particular wine barrel. However, there’s one wine that is a bit older than that – say about five plus centuries older.

Hospices de Strasbourg

Hospices de Strasbourg

Cave des Hospices de Strasbourg

Near the border of France and Germany on the Rhine River in the Alsace region, at the center of the European Union in Strasbourg, France, is the oldest wine known to exist in a barrel. It is a cellared 1472 vintage white wine stored at the Hospices de Strasbourg. The reason I bring this story up is the fact the wine has been transferred from a nearly 300 year old barrel into a new one because the ancient barrel was starting to leak. For the record, the wine was transferred one other time, in 1718.

The cool damp caves of the Hospice hold giant wine barrels that to this day produce high caliber white wines. Renovated roughly 20 years ago, the Hospice (also known as a hospital) has cared for the wine, in its caves, throughout its history. This particular 1472 vintage is topped off a few times a year – because wine evaporates (called the ‘angel’s share’) – but otherwise has survived the test of time. These very old caves under the Hospice were built in 1395. Yes, it goes back to medieval times. Interesting side note, people back in the day, would pay for medical aid by bringing wine or even vines to the hospital.

Still fine after all these years

The acidic wine has been tasted only a few times through history with last being when eastern France was liberated from Germany in 1944. A typical light white wine with 9.4% alcohol and golden amber hue, it is said to still have a fine bouquet. When tested in 1994, it was stated the wine had aromas of:

“vanilla, honey, beeswax, camphor, fine spices, hazelnut and fruit liqueur …”

This is the almost 300 year old wine barrel that housed the oldest barreled wine before being replaced recently.

Personally, it’s hard to believe a wine can be aged that long and have anything left that resembles wine, let alone still offering a good aroma. One of my friends in the wine business, who has a bit of a stubborn streak, continues to hold on to dozens and dozens of old barreled wine here in Paso Robles that’s going on two decades of aging. So maybe 543 year old wine from 1472 is possible. Yet, what about oxidation?

Regardless, this extremely old egg-shaped barreled Alsatian wine exists in Strasbourg. Built by experts from the famous Radoux cooperage in Cognac, the new approximately 120 gallon container will continue preserving the legendary wine safely until – When? I don’t know. Maybe when we have the next World War … ?

Additional sources: Michelin Green Guide Alsace Lorraine Champagne, Hospices de Strasbourg

Sante,

Daryle W. Hier

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