California Wine Production Drops Again, But …

The Golden State generates over 90% of all wine produced in the United States. So sometimes numbers have to be put in prospective. Still, the wine grape tonnage created in California for the 2015 season dropped a second year in a row, according to the just released California Grape Crush Report.California_Grape_Crush_Report-2015

We at Paso Wine Barrels keep tabs on statistics like this because it can affect our business, whether the winery crop production is high or low. Until just recently, it was difficult to find used wine barrels, because crush reports over the past few years have been high. After two back-to-back record breaking years in 2012 and 2013, wineries were leery and caused vintners to essentially hoard their used wine barrels in case the next year was the same as the last.

Drought tough to beat

Drought has gripped California for five years and that finally slowed down grape-growers who saw a dip in 2014, but still it was a very strong output. So some wine-makers relinquished their barrels, but most held steady figuring to wait one more year. That year was this past season and the grape crush is the lowest it’s been since 2011.

However, the amount of wine produced last year was average by comparison to past seasons during the 21st Century. Therefore, even though production was down 5% year-or-year, California is still the fourth largest wine producer in the world behind France, Italy and Spain – and we’re neck-and-neck with Espana. In other words, the wine is still flowing big time in sunny California.

If California was its own country, it would rank fourth in the world - maybe third - in wine production.

If California was its own country, it would rank fourth in the world – maybe third – in wine production.

Those in the industry will say that they needed a breather because there was too much bulk wine available, which can drive prices down. Yet, the world as a whole is drinking more wine, but not producing enough of what the demand wants. Hard to know for sure how that works out considering the elongated Recession is gathering up steam for another big hit economic-wise.

Chardonnay down, but not out

Although the cost of grapes in California is down a bit overall, for some varietals like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, prices have already increased, due to very low tonnage in 2015. So yours truly tries to pinpoint wineries who concentrate on those varietals. Locally, we had bouts of shatter on the Central Coast, which significantly reduced overall grape production. Simply stated, shatter is when the young grape cluster flowers are stressed to the point they fall off the vine. We knew it wasn’t going to be a good year and last harvest offered a glimpse into the troubles we were heading towards.

Chardonnay still leads the way as the number one varietal in California.

Chardonnay still leads the way as the number one varietal in California.

A few stats of interest from this harvest report show the leader with more than one-in-six grapes is Chardonnay. Cabernet Sauvignon is still king, at least among reds, and second place in the state. By the way, Thomson Seedless was the leading varietal regarding raisin production. Well over half a million acres in the Golden State have grapes growing on them.

A final report will be out in about a month with the complete rundown of all that is known of last years grape crush. Only five other years in state’s history of wine production had higher tonnage. So yes, the crush is lighter than the previous three years, but perspective will tell you that the wine industry is doing just fine in California.

Additional source: Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia

Salute!

Daryle W. Hier

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One-of-a-kind Coat And Hat Rack

Sometimes we come up with ideas based on what we personally need around the shop or home. We needed a couple of spots where we could hang coats during the winter and all our assorted caps and hats. This particular need and idea isn’t unusual and certainly others have made coat and hat racks – heck there are hundreds of them for sale.

Extremely unique coat and hat rack

Extremely unique coat and hat rack

Ah, but with that said, I looked around trying to find a handmade coat rack that was constructed strictly from a used wine barrel. Lo and behold to my surprise, I couldn’t find a coat/hat rack that was made only with wine barrel parts. Specifically, a used wine barrel stave and hooks made from hoop bands.

Nothing like this

Yes, you can find staves made into an assortment of products including coat racks. For instance we make one of these out of a barrel stave, but with three two-pronged brass hooks purchased from an outlet store. However, they are always made using store-bought hooks or other a sundry products made into a holder.

Now, it isn’t exactly easy taking a hoop band, cutting pieces off and then shaping them into a hook. Still, there are folks out there who have the ability to make things into almost anything you can imagine. Yet, the simple thought of creating a hook out of a hoop band from a wine barrel, obliviously didn’t happen.

So here you have it. We take a used wine barrel stave with all it’s inimitable appearance and sand it down just a bit to smooth out the roughness, but keeping the distinctive patina. We drill two holes on each end about 32 inches apart so it can be screwed into a typical wall which has 16 inch centers (the beams behind the wall). We then apply a single coat of sealer and stain – let dry – then cover with a coat of varathane to add a bit of shine to what is an unmatched coat and hat rack. We screw on five hoop bands which have been shaped and curved into a hook. These hooks are sanded down to take off any blemishes or sharp edges, while still maintaining the rugged look of a used wine barrel band. coat and hat rack with cap

Art?

Since each one is handmade, you will have the only one like it. These unique and apparently rare coat and hat racks will be the talk of the town almost as much as a piece of artwork.

Incredibly priced below $45 with free shipping – because we don’t know any better – they are available in limited supply right now, but over time, we will produce more. Check them out here: I don’t believe you will find anything else like it.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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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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The Worlds First Motel

On the event’s 90th anniversary this month, it seems only right to look back at the world’s first ever motel.

Postcard of the Motel Inn

The only way to travel prior to affordable automobiles, was by bus, train or ship. Considering the advent of mass produced cars at the turn between 19th and 20th centuries, combined with the improved development and true major production with much less cost created by Henry Ford and his Model T, travelers needed places to stay as they motored along the United States’ fledgling road systems.

And where else might the eventual first ever motel pop up, than in California where highway and freeway travel would be become a standard for the world.

The motel is born

The simply named Motel Inn (originally called the Milestone Inn), was built in San Luis Obispo as a natural rest point halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Businessman and architect Arthur S. Heineman, the owner, named it after his and his brother Alfred’s company name, Milestone Interstate Corporation, which was created as a venture to build motor courts up and down the West Coast.

The early years of the Motel Inn.

There were hotels and other temporary living quarters available to travelers including encampments, but nothing that truly accommodated tourist, vacationers and their cars. Also, the attraction of a more feasible way to lodge, made the idea grow. Thus, the ‘motor hotel’ was formed to meet the need.

Also known as the Milestone Mo-Tel, the red-tile roofed facility opened on December 12th in 1925. Built on the Camino Real and Highway 1, a traveler could park his car in a garage and slip comfortably into a nice and clean white stucco two-room with kitchen bungalow that slept at least four adults. A buck and two bits ($1.25) would pay for a nights stay. Comfort and convenience on the cheap – in the beautiful setting that is offered on the California Central Coast.

Stumble

The Roaring Twenties were in full swing and Heineman’s creation would appear to hit it out of the park like a Babe Ruth home run. However, he wasn’t able to find the financing for a proposed chain. Competition, the 1929 Crash and subsequent Depression nixed any expansion plans afterwards.

What’s left of the Motel Inn in San Luis Obispo – circa 1990.

Having changed hands several times over the years, the Motel Inn closed in 1991 and very little remains of the historic motel other than souvenirs at what now is the Apple Farm Inn right off U.S. 101 and Monterey Street. Earlier this year, there was a proposal by a couple developers to resurrect a newer version of the Motel Inn. 10 years prior another proposed concept to revive the infamous motel never left the drawing table.

Airbnb notwithstanding, having just traveled by car this past Christmas reminded me of the vast array of hotels and motels still being used with no end in sight. Mr Heineman’s vision was ideal but maybe – as many pioneering businessman find – his timing wasn’t right.

Whether the Motel Inn ever is brought back in some renovated form is not as important as the endearing and iconic accounting it brings to the history of automobiles and travel.

Sources: The End of the Road: Vanishing Highway Architecture in America, VisitSLO, San Jose State

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Wine And China

The great experiment of Capitalism combined with Communism in China may be struggling. And with it, the sudden slowdown of wine consumption in China has followed.

Vineyard at Huadong-Parry winery, Shandong Province, China.

Wine and China intrigued me when I was contacted over the last couple years by some wine barrel import/exporters interested in buying up any and all wine barrels I could get my hands on. Part of the interest was coming from China. Of course, many others were also interested in used wine barrels, including furniture manufacturers, spirit makers and a sundry of beer producers – just to name a few.

Boom or bust?

The drought has brought a slow down here in wine country as grape crops have fallen off their high volumes of a couple years ago. Barrels are still in demand, but the market isn’t quite as tight as it was. And there has come a deafening silence from China.

Many folks including those in the wine industry thought that China would be a major boon to grape growers – and it was for a time – but now bottles of wine by the boatloads are languishing in warehouses or being sold off at fire-sale prices. The multi-billion dollar Chinese wine market has hit a big bump in the road.

Growth

Wineries and cooperages were popping up all over China with the idea being they could reproduce what the rest of the world was making to ease the extremely tight market their economy was creating. However, where once lay the Silk Road, now is lined with vineyards growing grapes that no one wants.

To be sure, the wine industry in China hasn’t stopped, but when heading fast and furious as the growth skyrocketed, now a more slower and moderate pace has taken hold. Award-winning wines have been produced from Chinese grapes and certainly a new influential and potentially dominant player in the vino industry is at hand. Still in its infancy, the once almost limitless development and expansion in China of wine has backtracked somewhat. Remember, wine is still a luxury in China.

In addition, the attitudes of foreign countries to China and their wine are still hard to get around. Although wine isn’t new to the Chinese people, this Asian region of the world was known for rice and not grape-based wines. This has made selling Chinese wines abroad more difficult.

A little side note. China’s first grape vines were planted in the late 19th century and came from none other than right here in California. The Chinese Civil War stunted any growth and then along with the Communist overthrow, the wine industry stagnated for decades.

Bigger or …

China is one of the Top 10 largest wine producing countries, and with its immense population and land size, will likely be in the top five before long – it may already be. The over-enthusiastic growth of wine in China will likely find a more moderate pace in the years to come – if we don’t plunge into a worldwide depression.

If the truth be known, the world has never really risen from the Great Recession and although China seems to have it’s own economy, its involvement with capitalism has brought it closer to the rest of the world. Yet, its burgeoning middle class is hungry for more – and that includes wine.

The future of wine and China is in balance just as the world economy teeters with a global depression. The fledgling Chinese wine market is here to stay as a major force; but, will it continue to grow and eventually dominate the industry as some expect?

Sources: International Business Times, Thirsty Dragon

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Happy Thanksgiving From Wine Country

PR roads fallThanksgiving is a great American tradition and officially starts off our year end holiday celebration.

In Paso Robles this time of season, the Central Coast of California is stunning in its colors with the flowing vineyards of red, orange and yellow reminding all of us of what a beautiful place we live in.

I know some of you are already heading into the holiday rush; but, here’s hoping everyone including your family and friends have a fantastic day and celebrate all that is good with life and thank God we still live in a blessed land.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends, family, followers and social media folks.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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