Category Archives: Wine

Anything to do with wine

Wine On The Go – Vinnebago

You’re on the go, and want to take your go-to wine with you. Here’s one of the latest products that just might be the only thermos/canteen you will ever need, or go for – the Vinnebago.

From the whimsical wine trick experts of Corkcicle, comes another clever product that serves as both a wine-shilling device, as well as able to keep liquids warm. The Vinnebago has been on the market since the middle of last summer, and this modern version of your fathers stainless steel thermos, most importantly takes care of keeping your wine chilled for up to a surprising 25 hours. In fact, on Corkcicle’s website, they say:

“Your drink will remain virtually at the same temperature for up to 25 hours for cold drinks and 12 hours for hot ones.”

The insulation technology is what makes this handy 25 oz Vinnebago bottle unique. With a spill-free screw-on cap, the tripled walled stainless steel (this is why the canteen is magical) and vacuum-sealed devise comes in white, black and silver. By the way, the 25 ounces is about what a typical wine bottle holds – they didn’t miss anything with this beauty. The sleek and contemporary design looks cool as well.

Vinnebago

It is safer than bringing bottles wherever you go and can take a lick, if it must. So whether your heading to the beach, a picnic, camping and any other outing, the nifty Vinnebago should be part of your quick get-up-and-go arsenal.

It’s time to have fun and Vinnebago won’t disappoint.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Wine Boom … In Texas

A decade ago, grape-growing and wine in Texas was an afterthought. While being the second largest and most populous state in the United States, and with more farms than any other state in the Union, Texas supplies more than their fair share of crops including cotton, grain, hay, nursery (flowers, trees, etc), fruits, nuts and many other foodstuffs. Vine grapes have never been high on that list … but they are now.

In 2012, Texas barely made the Top 10 wine producing states in the U.S., yet now, Texas has moved into fifth nationally, along the way passing old wine stalwarts like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Indeed, wine is booming in Texas.

Overall, the Lone Star state is nowhere near the size of the California grape behemoth as a wine producer, considering they only have a tenth of the acreage planted that we here in Paso Robles have. However, they’re on a steady upward growth with plenty of land and it should be noted Texas predates the Golden state in producing wine. Going back almost four centuries, the Spanish missionaries established vineyards to make sacramental wine – primarily in West Texas.

Cotton is king, but …

Texas has a huge amount of natural resources and certainly doesn’t need to add wine to their production resume. Yet, where cotton is king, that’s exactly what’s happening, with a steady upward growth what with have plenty of land and a strong economy.

West Texas vineyard - hit by frost

Frost is a problem in Texas and has decimated past grape crop yields.

Texas is generally a dry climate but due to the fact they sit at the backside of the Rockies, on the Gulf Coast and susceptible to weather from the Great Plains, there isn’t an ideal environment for making multiple types of wines. However, each region has their own climate that can grow certain varietals and folks in Texas are learning how to cope with the sometimes violent changes in weather to produce excellent vino.

One of the many reason for the growth is the fact cotton prices have dropped and forced farmers to look elsewhere for revenue. Add in lack of rain – yes, Texas has a bit of their own drought issues – and vineyards are beginning to pop up in places like South Central Texas (just north and west of San Antonio) in what is called Hill Country.

Not unlike other wine regions, at the very southern end of the Great Plains, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are the widely planted varietals in Texas. As far as Hill Country, the biggest gains recently are Rhone Valley style wines such as Syrah. Also, north of this region in the high plains of West Texas, where oil and cotton are giants, production of wine is prevalent as well – even if frost is always a problem.

Winemaking In Texas

Popular travel destination

Though hard to believe or envision the wine industry growing in the land of cowboy hats and pickup trucks, surrounded by vast cotton fields, but that is exactly what is happening. And to add to the growth, stories such as Wine Enthusiast Magazine listing the area as one of the Top 10 travel destinations, the continuing development and expansion of vineyards will only grow.

Everything in Texas is big and certainly the big growth of their booming wine industry is making everyone take a hard look at the Lone Star state as a real player in the vino business. Weather – including drought and frost – may hinder Texas from ever moving any higher up than fifth on U.S. wine producing state list, but without doubt, wine grapes are making an indefinite appearance in the Southern Plains. Texas may still be the land of cotton, however there truly is a wine boom going on.

Additional sources:  Llano Estacado, Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Premium Boxed Wine

“Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.”

– James Cash Penney

When large and successful companies started selling a product like boxed wine on a regular basis, most folks in the vino world shrugged. However, when they start selling ‘premium boxed wine’ then people start taking notice. While those same experts might be cringing at the thought of a socalled premium wine being sold by the box, premium boxed wine appears to be here to stay.

Just as industry experts scoffed at the idea of canned wine, which is apparently on the horizon as a product for the near future, it seems as though boxed wine has found a following and now quality wines are coming to the fore. Award-winning Black Box Wines has sold millions producing Cabs, Merlot, Chards and almost any other major varietal you can think of.  This segment of wine is on the rise.

Now comes vino giant Gallo who is bringing the brand name of Vin Vault into the fray and it looks like they’re looking forward to big growth. Said Vice President of Marketing Stephanie Gallo:

“There’s a sea change occurring in consumers’ perception of wine. It’s becoming a casual social beverage as an adjunct to the dinner table.”

With a larger and younger crowd now buying wine, the advent of screw caps, canned and bag-in-a-box wine has taken off and may be the future of wine as we know it. If to put a seal on it, if you will, even Good Housekeeping thought four different boxed wines should receive their stamp of approval.

A variety of wines are available in 3-liter boxes.

As many winemakers were apt to say to me over the years, it all starts in the vineyard; so, if quality comes off the vines, it will presumably be of that same quality when it’s placed in a bag or a bottle. Something else to keep in mind and is an argument the bag-in-a-box crowd has preached for awhile is that the wine last longer in a bag than a bottle. Of course, once you open a bottle of wine, it needs to be drank within the next couple of days, while a bag can stay fresh and last a solid month after being first opened. I’m sure this isn’t lost on wines like Black Box and Vin Vault.

Another company has put a crate spin to this phenomena by rethinking the packaging with a bag in a wooden box from Wineberry of France. This actually has been out for four or maybe five years now and tries to waylay the stigma of cardboard wine with a classy looking wooden crate box.

These premium boxed wines are retailing at between $20 and $30 a three liter box (the equivalent of four bottles), the old me would have said, ‘heck yeah, give me some of that boxed wine’. The more informed and now nuanced me isn’t so sure yet. Still, sales of premium boxed wine are booming and portability is big nowadays, plus it has to remembered the younger crowd isn’t sold on the pop of the cork and would just as soon have a good vino drained from a bag as be poured from a bottle.

The times they are a changin’.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Canned Wine

I’m going, I’m going
Where the water tastes like wine
I’m going
Where the water tastes like wine
We can jump in the water
Stay drunk all the time

– Going Up The Country by Canned Heat

Love that song and Canned Heat’s unique sound. In any case, the wine industry can advance at a glacier-like pace when it comes to change. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but with the popularity of wine now being marketed to the masses, change will come. As to that end, the unique idea of canned wine may be here.

This is unique but actually Winestar, a French company – of all people – produced some canned wine a few years. Of course, they insisted it be drank in a glass. Those French blends came from the south of France. Now, over 5,000 miles away, a small winery in Boise, Idaho, is bringing vino in a can to the public. Split Rail Winery who are the makers of La Boheme White Wine – this most recent stab at canned wine – suggests you should drink it right out of the can.

Egads!

I’m sure the bulk of wine drinkers are cringing at this thought. Pop a aluminum top can, rather than a cork?! The horrors! Established and longtime lovers of wine wouldn’t possibly drink vino out of a can. However, the canned approach to drinking wine is aimed at a new following, who are younger and don’t need the pomp and circumstance or care about the history that can go with traditional wine.

Although the folks at Split Rail Winery like to say the idea is new, Union Wine Company, just 400 miles to the west, came out a year or so ago with their Underwood Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio in a can. By the way, La Boheme is a Riesling, branded as Strange Folk Wines.

And the idea of canning quality spirits isn’t new in this area where craft brewing is so big, what with quality micro-brews also being canned on a regular basis (Forbes).

Heading up and outdoors to the country 

Campers or just outdoor enthusiasts will understand the draw. Canned wine is easier to dispose of than a bottle, plus when you’re out and about in the sticks like at a lake, river or ocean, it will be much easier to enjoy from an ice cooler while sitting around the campfire, partying or just having a fun time.

The issue I see is people will be drinking a can of wine like they drink beer, and that could lead to folks getting plastered much quicker and easier. At $6 each, La Boheme comes in 12.7 oz lined aluminum can which is equal to half a bottle of wine. Yee Haw will likely lead to Heave Ho – if you get my drift.

There are others making canned wine, but it figures that wine in a can would take off in a place like Idaho where being outdoors is a way of life. The Strange Folk Wines’ cans say it all: ‘PULL TABS, NOT CORKS’. The process of drinking wine may be changing. As they state on Split Rail Winery’s website:

“Its time to think outside the bottle.”

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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California Drives U.S. Wine Exports In 2014

Even with a drought, port slowdown, an elongated recession and a state that is hurting rather than helping, the overall wine production in California was strong in 2014. And hence it helped lead the United States to its second highest dollar value ever for exporting wines, according to the Wine Institute.

Even though revenue was down slightly from a year ago, U.S. exports have trended upwards over the past several years, led by California which produces 90% of the countries exports. In total, there was about $1.5 billion in wine export revenue from the U.S.

Worldwide, consumers are clamoring more and more for California wines even if Europe has slowed in its desire for American vino has waned. Excluding China, exports to East Asian countries are up.

Oddly or not, there’s a budding patronage with the single biggest increase by any country for importing U.S. wines: Nigeria. The Wine Institutes numbers show the oil-rich nation saw a 172% increase from the year before, moving Nigeria into eighth worldwide as a consumer of American wines.

Volume up

Taken as a whole, total export volume rose slightly from a year ago with nearly 117 million gallons of wine exported from the U.S. The largest total increase of $33 million year-over-year was from Canada with 5.8 million gallons more shipped to the Great White North in 2014 over 2013.  Canada ranked second overall right behind the European Union (EU) as the biggest importer of American wine. Japan ranks a distant third behind the EU and Canada.

Other hindrances that the U.S. overcame to produce such powerful numbers is a strong dollar plus heavy foreign taxes and levies. While the many obstacles that have been laid before California vintners haven’t slowed production, the fact they generated more wine and still increased the quality says volumes about the Golden State’s place in the winemaking world.

By the way, the statistic stating 90% of wine in the United States produced by California might be low, considering much of the states wine is shipped to other states who in-turn ship overseas.

Not to be outdone, the U.S. only exports about one-tenth of the wine they make. Meaning a vast majority of its wines stay within its borders, to be drank by Americans. I’ll say bottoms up to that!

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Is Cork A Good Idea?

What does the public really think of cork closures? The answer is overwhelming, at least as far as this Nielson Company report states.

First, it should be noted this information is supplied by a press release put out by the cork industry. Still, the answer was a definite yes for cork.

Huge positive for …

Five major leaders in the wine business advertised over the holidays using cork to promote and endorse their product. These wineries saw a 6.4% rise in sales due to the cork marketing engagements. Conversely, 200 other major wines who advertised during the same period without any acknowledgement of cork, saw their sales drop 5%.

The reason they did this comparison and research was due in part to a report last year that stated:

“93% of U.S. wine consumers associate natural cork with higher quality wines, while only 11 percent believe wines sealed with a screw cap to be of high quality.”

Since wineries weren’t informing the public about their use of cork, there was an unknown. Therefore to prove the research correct, the advertisements were placed and the cork usage significantly made a difference with the consumer.

We’ve discussed the cork and screw cap debate and it is apparent the cork versus screw cap battle is ongoing and becoming more fierce everyday. With this latest campaign stated by the cork industry would suggests that more vintners will be letting folks know they are using cork over screw caps or other sealable containers.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Successful Football Coach And Wine

It’s been mentioned here and in other stories, that football and sports in general have connections to the wine industry. Hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky, golf great Greg Norman and racing champs Mario Andretti and Jeff Gordon are a few of the many who have entered the world of grape-growing and winemaking.

Super Coach

The 78 year old Dick Vermeil might not be at the top of the mind when it comes to notoriety, but the man was a coaching great in the world of football for almost 50 years, along the way rebuilding programs and winning including a Super Bowl for the St. Louis Rams. He coached with emotion and vigor, taking poor teams and bringing them to prominence.

Born in Calistoga, California, in the upper reaches of Napa Valley, though wine was prominent in his life, football would be Vermeil’s biggest passion. His first significant triumph was short but successful two-year stint in Westwood as the head coach for the UCLA Bruins. Vermeil took the Bruins to the Rose Bowl where they would win for only the second time in school history defeating an undefeated and #1 ranked Ohio State. UCLA finished ranked fifth in the country for the 1975 college football season.

He made the jump in 1976 to the professional ranks as a head coach for the hapless Philadelphia Eagles who hadn’t had a winning record for a decade. Vermeil’s team struggled for a couple years before finally becoming a playoff club four straight seasons including a Super Bowl appearance in 1980 where they lost to the Oakland Raiders. The 1982 season was a strike year, which helped to drive the impassioned coach into an early retirement.

After 15 years as a television commentator, Vermeil found his way back into a head coaching job with the St. Louis Rams who like the Eagles, had floundered for nearly a decade without a winning season. His third year with the Rams brought a Super Bowl Championship (with an exciting win over the Tennessee Titans). He retired a second time, only to join the Kansas City Chiefs in 2001 and coach them to a 44-36 record over five seasons. This time Dick Vermeil retired permanently from football and indulge in his second passion, wine.

Vermeil Wines

Although he has homes in Pennsylvania and Missouri, Vermeil had always loved wine over the years, being drawn into the industry for 15 years now. His family heritage in wine goes back to a pair of great grandfathers from a century ago. Continuing the legacy based in Calistoga, Vermeil Wines has been a serious endeavor for the famed head coach with several friends and family involved in the enterprise. His partners are Paul Smith, MarySue Frediani, Jim Frediani, Jeanne Frediani and his wife Carol Vermeil. They opened a tasting room the year before last in Napa and produce top-rated wines. Some of them are pricey, but that is the result of success for the former football coaches passionate effort.

As is usual for the always excited head coach and to that end, winning with enthusiastic zeal is Dick Vermeil’s formula. As he is quoted as saying:

“If you don’t invest very much, then defeat doesn’t hurt very much and winning is not very exciting.”

Additional source: Dick Vermeil: Whistle in His Mouth, Heart on His Sleeve

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Topping Off A Wine Barrel

Little more than a handful of years ago, if you would have asked me what topping off is, I’d simply say it’s adding a little extra fuel in tank. Well, that’s not far off when considering topping off a wine barrel.

We may have talked about the fact in the past, but basically an oak wine barrel is somewhat porous, allowing wine to breath. However, that loss or evaporation creates a void in the wine barrel called headspace or ullage as the French call it, which lies between the top of the wine and the top of the barrel where the bung hole is. Note, when not empty, a wine barrel lays long way on a wine rack with the bung sitting on top and a bung-stopper plugged in.

Evaporation & racking

The evaporated wine is called the ‘angel’s share’ and is common in winemaking. You don’t want that gap as it could cause oxygenation, which isn’t good for wine. So wine is added to top off the barrel. The wine used can be literally anything the winemaker chooses, but usually is a similar type of wine or varietal that might compliment the barreled wine. For instance. If you had Zinfandel in the barrel, because Zin can sometimes lack depth or structure, a Petite Syrah is added when topping off.

Topping off might occur a little more often at the beginning when the wine it still fermenting, but after primary fermentation, a wine is at rest and just waiting for it to age, so topping off might occur less often.

Racking_wine_between_barrels

Racking wine

Also, wine has to be racked ever so often to get the wine off the sediment, which is commonly called lees. Racking is moving the wine from the vessel to another barrel temporarily so the barrel can be cleaned. I’ll probably talk about racking at another time, but in short, this cleans up the wine a bit so the wine can gain quality. This process obviously removes volume from the wine barrel, and in-turn a large headspace is present and needs topped off.

The original varietal will keep its character and the loss and topping off isn’t sufficient enough to truly affect the wine. It might be added here that this time of topping off is often a good time for the winemaker to check on and even taste the wine. Sometimes a winery will make this an opportunity of wine evaporation to have a barrel-tasting with friends, family or customers.

Controlling angel’s share

Over the course of say two years in the barrel, a wine might lose four to six gallons. Some wineries will try to use temperature and humidification system to limit this process of lost wine to angel’s share. These more controlled environments will allow the wine to lose less alcohol and more water, which consequently will bring the alcohol percentage up. This allows for less meddling with the wine, which some winemakers prefer.

You may have noticed some wineries use caves to store their barrels of wine, and this method controls the aging process and keeps the evaporation down. Regardless, the process of checking the wine, checking the headspace and topping it off occurs anywhere from every week or two, to sometimes quarterly. This is based on the winemaker along with the storage conditions.

Barrel tasting has to be part of the ‘work’ in winemaking.

All of this action around the wine barrel is why the area around the bung is red, compared the to the rest of the barrel. That’s fine and even gives a barrel character for us used barrel folks.

So the next time you have a chance to visit a winery and barrel-taste, do so and maybe you’ll even catch them topping off the wine. Any excuse, right?

Sources: Venture Vineyards, Wine Making: The Ultimate Guide to Making Wine at Home

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Concrete Wine Barrels

The first time most folks hear that someone is using concrete containers for making wine, they cringe. Bleh! Who wants their wine to convey a chalky cement taste? Doesn’t white oak impart the characteristics a winemaker wants and/or needs with their grapes to bring out the best in a vintage? Actually, no, not all wines and not all vintners want an oak flavor or aroma in the wine.

Oak wine barrels may have to make room for egg-shaped concrete wine barrels .

Not new

That’s where concrete comes in. Concrete wine barrels – which have a little mix of clay in them – have been around for a couple centuries, at one time aiding the wine industry as a vessel of choice. It should be noted the first wine containers were Amphoras, which were essentially made of ceramic (and clay) – not wood. Europe is where concrete first started, mainly in France.

With concrete, the keyword you will find over and over is mouthfeel. Steel doesn’t impart much of anything other than a harshness along with not allowing the wine to breath – complexities in the wine can get lost. Concrete breathes like oak, however, unlike oak, concrete allows for a truer taste or mouthfeel. Also, the terms ‘fresh’ and ‘clean’ are used when describing the affect concrete has on wine. Concrete storage vessels were used in the past but eventually were replaced by steel. It is apparent a reversal is in the works.

Moves naturally

The latest evolution of the concrete vat is the egg shape. The shape was found to allow the wine to move around and not get stuck in edges like a wooden or steel cask. Without going into specifics, an egg has a slight temperature degree difference between the top and bottom and this creates a natural circulation.

White wine appears to benefit more from the science of an egg-shaped concrete container. The thicker walls of the concrete method give an easier and cooler fermentation process. Again, this offers a better mouthfeel.

Moving is an issue

The reason concrete hasn’t taken off, other than the fact the world of winemaking is slow to change, is due to the cost of these big and heavy concrete vessels. Also, the shear weight and odd contours for moving make these vats a challenge to handle. Special forklifts are needed to move the heavy containers around. In addition to the difficulties with concrete is cleaning. When something is found to work in cleaning the insides, it can also degrade the surface. By the way, at the end of aging, a lot of winemakers will transfer the wine from the concrete barrels into oak for a brief time.

Another problem with these concrete eggs is costs. Relatively speaking, although the investment is not much more than an oak barrel, shipping a concrete vessel isn’t cheap. The main manufacturer (Nomblot) is from Burgundy, France, which has made the freight situation expensive. New makers of these vessels are starting to pop up including in the United States and that should reduce shipping costs.

It will be interesting to see if this trends continues and more winemakers shelve oak or steel for concrete. Like our motto says, “What’s old is new again”, could apply to the concrete wine barrel. Concrete – Who knew?

Additional sources: Wine Spectator

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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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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