Category Archives: Weather

Drought Slows Wine Production, Not Quality

The 2014 California wine grape production at the start of the growing season had all the markings of a third-in-a-row huge haul for the industry. However, weather and the man above had other plans for this years harvest. And it’s not all bad.

It might not look pretty but the grapes from these vines are scrumptious.

No record third year

So many winemakers and growers told yours truly over and over again this year that they would be holding on to their extra barrels because they could see another big grape growing season. A timely spring rain helped this notion along and the industry was ready for a repeat of 2012 and 2013 – especially considering the warmer than normal spring here in California.

Still, drought, helped along by local, state and federal government over-bearing and over-regulated intervention, created a lack of water. This in-turn didn’t offer up the needed ingredient to push clusters to grow big and plump.

Tonnage appears off this year so far during harvest but the one thing that has improved is quality of fruit. The grapes are smaller, but aided in part by cooler windy weather just when vintners were ready to pick what was ready to be an extremely early harvest – and voila, the grapes had time to ripened longer on the vine, maturing into what is a high quality product. It should be noted that some wineries here on the Central Coast have reported good yields.

2014’s vintage may be one of the better years in recent memory. Several winemakers have told me that although their production is off by as much as a third, the current quality of grapes hearkens back nearly a decade ago.

Yum

What happens when the berries don’t have the usual water, they become smaller with a more concentrated flavor that usually offers up a sweeter and more powerful wine. This is good news for vintners who are sitting on quite a bit of wine right now. With this vintage being a higher quality, but lesser volume, it won’t cramp wineries with little room for this years crop; yet, creates a superior wine with better aroma and taste.

Crops are continuing to be picked and with harvest being earlier than normal this year, most of the grapes are in, destemmed and crushed. It remains to be seen how much total tonnage there will be in California – at the very least, farmers can be satisfied that 2014’s vintage will be one to remember.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Smaller 2014 Harvest? More Barrels Available?

The 2012 and 2013 grape crop production was huge and this year, many thought 2014 would bring yet an unusual third straight big vineyard haul. This is still possible but several factors that have changed the harvest process this year may reduce the tonnage for producing wine. And that may increase the likelihood of more used barrels becoming available.

California wine grapes on the vine

Wishful thinking on our part? Yes, I’m hoping for this potential bonanza of unneeded barrels, but it appears those hopes have some facts to back them up.

Leading up to 

To back up a moment, the season began with ideas of yet another larger than normal crop year. The combination of some spring rains just at the right time after another relatively dry winter, gave an early indication that production could be big again. After an earlier than normal bud break, early veraison happened in July and although that didn’t necessarily mean more and/or bigger grapes, it did offer an earlier timetable that for one, would mean earlier harvest and less chance of freezes or early Autumn rains that might create mildew.

Winemakers told us at Paso Wine Barrels that they were holding on to their neutral and used barrels in case a third-in-a-row big harvest occurred. With an earlier than normal picking period, wineries were busily processing their grapes – so we waited.

Raisin crop drying

At that same time, in the Central Valley, the raisin crop was off the vine. However, a smaller than expected yield – attributed mostly to drought and government induced water shortages – gave pause to the rest of the industry. It should be noted that farmers have been hit hard by the state and federal water regulations that have forced vintners in particular to use less water or just plain not grow some of their crops. Catch more of this insidious man-made disaster here.

Some farmers had a compressed harvest but one good spell of cooler than normal weather in August slowed harvest down for others, giving several winemakers a little break while allowing the grapes to mature, improving the quality. The little bit of rain that vineyards in the northern part of California received in mid-September was nowhere near enough or even on time to help improve growing conditions.

More barrels?

Filling wine barrel

How many barrels will be needed this harvest?

Now it appears that a lighter than normal crop set up, but with good quality grapes. Smaller berries are being reported and from a personal standpoint, I too have seen grapes from different vineyards and they appear smaller than normal. This decrease in grape crop tonnage from the past two years seems to becoming more obvious, which leads us to, well, us.

Barrels have been much harder to come by with vintners essentially hoarding them until harvest came through. I haven’t seen an abundance yet of request from winemakers to come pick up their barrels, but from all the current signs, it points to the possibility that more of the wonderful wooden casks that make our business possible, could be available soon.

I’ll let folks know as time goes on, but if we are right and a cornucopia of barrels flows our way, this will be good news for everyone who follows our little family-run company.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Cal Poly Producing

There is a giant and spacious campus on the California Central Coast that is home to one of the top state universities in the United States. Roughly halfway between the metropolis’ of San Francisco and Los Angeles, the school sprawls next to hillsides in the northern part of the city of San Luis Obispo as California Polytechnic State University or Cal Poly for short.

Less than 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean, Cal Poly was established 113 years ago as a vocational or trade school. In the early years of the Great Depression, the state changed the precepts to a technical school. Not long after WW II, Cal Poly began offering Masters degrees.

Big school, big coast, big boasts

The expansive school, nicknamed the Mustangs, is in fact the second largest university or college in California with 9,678 acres. It’s always ranked as one of the Top 10 universities in the West and this past year was rated #1 architecture program in the country. Overall, the prestigious and renown U.S. News and World Report’s America’s Best Colleges guidebook ranks Cal Poly as Best in the West with the #1 engineering program in the country. It goes on-and-on. It is quite a school.

Whether it’s the mild climate, the attraction of nearby beaches, beautiful crystal clear air, the laid-back small town atmosphere or the majestic morros (hilltops) called the ‘Nine Sisters’, the spectacular landscape of the Central Coast seems to serve and add to the quality of learning.

Though not a powerhouse by anyone’s imagination, Cal Poly’s sports produce quality athletic squads.

Sports are all quality level but if you’re expecting a school like USC or UCLA, this isn’t it. Their football team is a decent Division 1AA team that makes the playoffs more so than not and their basketball team, which was always so-so, made the NCAA’s this past year for the first time. Their baseball team has been to the playoffs recently.

Wines where it’s at

However, to those who are in the industry, Cal Poly is now becoming a leader in producing high quality graduates in the wine industry. Their viticultural department has created longstanding and steady flow of vintners, managers and vineyard careers. To be more precise, the College of Agriculture, Food & Environmental Sciences gets students ready to succeed in the ever-growing wine industry.

Although the California Central Coast as a whole, is well-known and produced a plethora of wine, the North County of San Luis Obispo – Paso Robles – is the world’s number one wine region. This has created a demand, which has given students an advantage of being wanted and needed when they earn their degrees.

Cal Poly makes their own commercially produced wines.

Cal Poly teaches their students all facets of a multidimensional industry, including growing the product, making the product and of course marketing the product. Whether the student wants to farm grapes, make wine or manage and market, all aspects are covered.

Producing ready-to-go graduates 

President of Cal Poly, Jeffrey D. Armstrong, may have said it best:

“In today’s work, college graduates must be able to work creatively and think critically across multiple disciplines. Cal Poly’s graduates can – and do. Employers love our graduates, because they have two hands on the problem and two feet on the ground. They’re ready to contribute on Day One.”

On a personal note, I knew little about the school before I moved here from Los Angeles several years ago. By following sports, that was about the only thing I did know. Now having been around the region for a little while, I can appreciate the quality of schooling and why students want to be here on the Central Coast. When I’m at wineries, it’s a common site to see Cal Poly Mustang clothing being worn, as the influence is palpable.

With about 20,000 students, the school has formed a backbone of high standards that will help assist and shape today and tomorrow’s society in oh so many ways. Those same students are likely drawn by the beauty of the area along with so many activities like biking, surfing or an abundance of hiking to keep the mind fresh – all combined with a topnotch university gives Cal Poly a special place in the hierarchy of higher learning.


 

NOTE: In the fall of 2014, Payscale.com listed amongst public universities, Cal Poly in the Top 15 for earnings made after they graduate. As the number one rated state school in California, Cal Poly graduates were averaging $56,200 early in their careers and $100,100 average during the middle of their careers.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Central Coast 2014 Fall Forecast

Summer gave us a little of everything including a rare thunderstorm or two. It was mild overall and in fact, as I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, it seemed we were in a perpetual June all summer long with warm but windy conditions.

With summer sadly coming to an end soon, it’s time we looked at harvest time and fall. I’m not a weather forecaster and don’t play one on television. However, I’ve had an interest in weather for quite some time even though I lived most of my life in the Greater Los Angeles area, which really doesn’t have a lot of weather … or seasons.

Now that I’ve lived in Paso Robles for several years, with tie-ins to the wine business, weather has mattered more. The forecast here is a compilation of several other sources that know much more than I … although a tidbit of my own observations may sneak in.

Actually, fall doesn’t start until late Monday night at 10:30 p.m. on September 22nd. So essentially fall starts with the first full day on the 23rd, which is still three weeks away.

Ease into Fall

While the rest of the country will be seeing the onset of winter-like conditions in the fall, weather experts have vacillated on how much of an affect if any, El Nino will have this winter in relation to the West Coast. Whether the strength of it will be worth noting or not is debatable but since El Ninos don’t tend to have a lot of effect on fall, we’ll figure the norm for Autumn rains.

13th Street - Paso Robles

Parts of the Salinas River can’t be seen – but floods have reached the 13th Street bridge in Paso Robles.

September will likely see a slow but steady drop in temperatures with some saying we may have seen the last of real hot weather. September, and even the first half of October, can bring heat to the Central Coast, but unless something unusual occurs, we’ve seen the last of big heat. That means no more 100’s in the North County or 90’s in the inland areas. The beaches could still see some 80’s and much of our beach areas receive their clearest and warmest weather in late summer and early fall, however, don’t expect a lot of good days remaining in that regard.

Nothing spooky

October won’t look much different than September – just cooler. Again, this period of the year can sprout a little heat wave and there’s nothing to say we won’t have some more days that lean towards the hot side, but as we get closer to Halloween, the weather will cool down. High temperatures will be at or slightly above normal with beaches and inland areas in the 60’s and 70’s while the North County will hang on to the 80’s. Lows will be the usual 50’s for almost everyone with North County dipping into the 40’s and maybe some 30’s too.

I might note that because of the drought situation, some of the colors we get, especially in the North County, will be earlier than normal. In fact, I’ve already seen the first signs of color change on some trees – something we don’t normally get until late September or early October.

Mild Thanksgiving … but December?

As November hits us, the usual temperature drop continues, but nothing extreme this year. Also, don’t expect much more moisture than usual, even if the threat of an El Nino is real. Mild is the word heading into Thanksgiving.

The last few weeks of fall might see average to little more than normal rainfall heading into winter. December is generally considered the coldest month and that will likely be the case this season. In other words, unlike the rest of 2014, December should be normal with cool days and cold nights and at least a couple rain storms.

Again, all I did here along with my own experiences is compile information from multiple sources. Overall, fall should start out average with moderate temps and little rain, It will continue to be normal temps through the middle of Autumn, followed by cold wintry-like weather in the final stages before winter.

A third year of drought would not be pretty. We need rain on the Central Coast and throughout much of the Golden State. It’s still questionable if that will happen, but we can hope for the best. That’s my forecast – nothing exciting, however December could bring us some changes … hopefully for the better. And let’s hope everyone has a great harvest.

It is only the farmer who faithfully plants seeds in the Spring, who reaps a harvest in the Autumn. – B. C. Forbes

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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