Monthly Archives: January 2016

MidWinter El Nino Update

A lot of ominous story lines were written about the coming monster El Nino for the 2015/2016 winter season. Those of us in drought-stricken California were bracing ourselves for an onslaught of rain that may not have had an equal. Well, there’s a bit of good news and bad.

Cold – No big rains

In Paso Robles, we awoke to plenty of icy conditions in December of 2015.

In Paso Robles, we awoke to plenty of icy conditions in December of 2015.

The good news, to some degree, is the otherwise normal winter we’ve had here in the Golden State, especially in wine country on the California Central Coast. December started off with its usual cold snap that had us regularly in the 20s with several icy mornings. Day time high temps hovered barely in the 50s, but otherwise there was a little cold rain here and there – that was it.

As the holidays slid by, the temperature started warming up and with it, more rain. It might sound counter-intuitive to think El Nino and its rains would drive temperatures up, but rather than getting storms from a normal northwesterly track out of the Pacific Northwest and Canada, El Nino draws warmer climes from the Central Pacific. By the way, our mountains – the Sierra Nevadas – have been hammered with snow this season, which is definitely a good thing, considering Californians get a majority of their water from the mountain snow runoff.

This is suppose to be a huge El Nino year, however it hasn’t been the typical drum beat of a driving rain storm after driving rain storm. We have received an average amount of rainfall, which has made it easier on the land, so as not to wash away and erode the farms and vineyards of its valuable soil.

Currently, we just had a mini gullywasher and are expecting showers near the end of the week. Yet, the last week of January looks relatively warm and sunny with highs possibly reaching 70. Heck, get the suntan lotion out, it’s summer! Yeah, not so fast.

About that bad news

Godzilla

As January folds into February, which is our wettest month, there are plenty of signs the Godzilla of all El Nino’s is coming onshore. The first full week of 2016 saw a modest set of back-to-back storms reminiscent of El Nino. According to NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory climatologist Bill Patzert, the the rest of winter and likely the first part of spring are going to bring us monster rains (source: L.A. Times). Or as Mr. Patzert puts it of the earlier storms:

“That was a trailer for the movie.”

Essentially what will be happening is the jet stream will come down on to the southern half of California and started sucking every storm from the Central Pacific and tropics in what we call the ‘Pineapple Express’. Think of it as a river of storms pulling moisture all the way up from Hawaii to California.

Whether we receive the predicted record-breaking numbers of rainfall with help from the Pineapple Express, remains to be seen, but regardless, we will see an increase in precipitation over the next couple months.  And with that, should tamper down the drought conditions along with greening up our beautiful rolling hills of Paso Robles.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of rain – I grew up in L.A. I’d look terrible in heels, so I’ll clink my beer mug or wine glass because I’m thinking suntan lotion … I’m thinking there’s no time like summer, there’s no time like summer, there’s no time like summer.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Wine: Where It All Began, Sort Of

Mount Ararat - Armenia

Casual conversations among wine drinkers sometimes leads to where did it all begin. Okay, maybe my interest in history leads to that conversation. Still, where it all began is interesting thought regarding wine.

When, then where

Maybe the better question could be when did winemaking start. I’m not going to get into the exacts of this because there are unbounded vagaries as to the who, what, when, where and how of wine and winemaking. It’s arguable, and archaeologically speaking, the history of winemaking is a bit blurred. However, sometime during the end of the Stone Age, or upwards of 10,000 years ago, may be where early man discovered the pleasurable magic of vino. The Bronze Age some 5,000 years later is when wine production probably began. It should be noted that theoretically, man discovered alcohol from watching birds eat fermented fruit and then becoming odd in their actions afterward.

Armenia-pottery-ancient

Ancient pottery from archaeological site in Armenia

While wild grapes can be found from Western Europe to China, the domestication of wine looks to have begun in the steppe region of Armenia (also known as the Upper Middle East). In these highlands, with the advent of pottery, wine production likely began. Less than 30 years ago, there were archaeological digs in this region that found 5,000 year old pottery remnants with a red hue, thought to be wine residue.

The trek that wine took went from Armenia and migrated south to Mesopotamia (Iraq) and west to Eastern Europe.

Its biblical background

From a biblical perspective, it’s suggested this Upper Middle Eastern plateau expanse could be where the Garden of Eden was located. Another tidbit is this area might have been where the first production of apricot brandy occurred. It’s well known that brandy was first regularly produced in large supply in Eastern Europe including the Black Sea Region, not far from Armenia. Geographically speaking, Ancient Armenia stretched from the Mediterranean to the Black and Caspian Seas.

Greek wall painting showing grape-vines trained over a trellis, then crushed in a vat. The Bible credits Noah with inventing wine.

Greek wall painting showing grape-vines trained over a trellis, then crushed in a vat.
The Bible credits Noah with inventing wine.

Noah was said to have planted a vineyard in this same area and made wine from it. This is the first written account of grape growing and winemaking. Mount Ararat, where Noah’s Ark landed, was in the middle of Armenia (edge of modern day Turkey). Although wine was produced mainly for royalty and dignitaries, some partook for sacramental, religious or spiritual occasions.

The Levant – a name that only recently starting making the news with ISIS (aka ISIL or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) – is a region just south of Armenia and Turkey which is brought up as the earliest times of food … and of course wine production.

Other places

Others state that wine had its start in China some 9,000 years ago. However, this recipe was made from rice and not grapes. Archaeological sites from Iran, to Georgia and Greece show signs of domestic wine production dating back some 7,000 years ago. The earliest exporting of wine from the Levant was shipped to Ancient Egypt over 5,000 years ago. The Egyptians were thought to be the first vine pruners. Note that Ancient Palestine had wine, but it was date wine, made from date palms.

Oldest winery - Armenia

Oldest winery – Armenia

The oldest winery dates back 6,000 years to Armenia – a central and recurring place of reference when researching wine’s history. Yet, truly the Romans brought wine to the fore about 1,000 BC, creating a science and viniculture that is with us today. It is said the Romans created the wooden cask to carry products easily while keeping foods and drink protected, which also kept them from spoiling. Eventually the wooden cask for wine – or wine barrel – would be used as a regular container for vino.

The birthplace of wine might not be clear, and many cultures delved into making different forms of alcohol. Still it could be said that the highlands of Armenia are as good a place as any for where it all began when considering the beginnings of wine.

Sources: Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of VinicultureAlcohol: A History, University of Pennsylvania

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

.

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Get these already popular barrels now!