Tag Archives: drought

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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Wine Industry Struggling?

One of the oldest adages is that alcohol – or more directly in this circumstance, wine – is recession proof.  Is that true or is the wine industry struggling?

The general thinking is when times are good, everything in an economy Grapebin-Portugal_EU_Winedoes well, but when there is a dip in the markets, consumers will cut back on all but the necessities.  However, booze has always been a staple of recessional or depression oriented times because folks need an outlet of entertainment and products such as wine are considered as important enough as staples that people aren’t willing to give them up.  That’s why business portfolios often will have ‘sin’ stocks in alcohol related industries.

Here in the United States and for that matter, the rest of the world has been in an elongated recession – depression for places like Detroit and parts of Europe.  This troublesome trend has reared its ugly head and affected many aspects of society and shall we say … egads … the wine industry?  How could this be?

Top down

Some would say that even the alcohol oriented business is susceptible.  And recently, the biggest news yet seems to agree with that assessment, because the largest wine company in the world, Treasury Wine Estates has been hit hard and as such, will be slashing jobs and costs (source: Sydney Morning Herald).  Here in the U.S., Treasury Wine owns California based Beringer Vineyards, which is one of the oldest wineries in California.

Beringer Vineyards

Beringer Vineyards is one of the oldest in Napa Valley but they along with their parent, Treasury Wine, are struggling.

An interesting side note to the troubles at Treasury Wine is the fact that last year, the company destroyed older and aged wines.  Yes, that’s right, the company felt compelled to destroy large amounts of wine because they felt there was too much wine on the U.S. market.  Net profits for the company had tanked and in-turn, their CEO was pressured to leave.  By the way, most of the wine destroyed was from Beringer.

This is an odd situation because if you’ve paid attention to the news in the wine business, there appears to be a shortage in wine supply.  I’m not an expert in this field but still, destroying wine because you have too much of it in a certain markets doesn’t mean it couldn’t be sold somewhere else given the supposed world-wide scarcity of wine.  Yes, this information is contradictory and we may not know the exact answer, but my thought is if an extended recession has forced the largest wine producer to destroy wine, a shortage is a bit far-fetched.  And a report just came out saying Bordeaux wholesalers feel the market is soft (source: Harpers) and that “current demand is ‘dead’”.  Ouch!

I do know that while the U.S. and China are consuming more wine year-in and year-out, Europe, where the biggest consumers were based, has shown a fairly sharp decline in wine consumption.  With poor economies in much of Europe, it would seem obvious that wine consumption is being directly affected.

The South American wine industries have suffered due in part to the world-wide recession and high inflation.  Argentina in particular, has seen inflation raging and therefore has instituted price controls.  The country has surged to the left politically in the past decade with government intervention at every level.  Politics may be one of the problems with the wine industry but there’s another issue: demographics.

Competition & other issues

There are a myriad of alcohol drinks that wine is competing against.

There are a myriad of alcoholic drinks that wine is competing against.

The beer industry has seen a shift from standard beers like Budweiser, Coors et al, to microbrews.  That shift is also impacting the wine industry (source: London Wine Fair).  Young adults aren’t enamored by wine and there’s seems to be a detachment and “an overall lack of engagement”.  Hard booze such as multiple flavored vodka’s have also become popular with the young adult population.

Other problems like China which has too seen a drift into a flat pattern of wine drinking after a steady climb up, is also affecting wine industry.

California has its own problems with drought and a lack of support from state and federal regulators who have hurt farmers recently with peculiar rulings that have exasperated the water situation.  The lack of farming has led to a drastic increase in unemployment as well as hammering the economy as a whole.

So while the wine industry struggles against a constant recessional pounding, they’re also being attacked by other liquors that appeal more to younger generations, while governments confound the problems further.

We hear so many positive stories about the wine industry especially here in the Paso Robles where we garnered the top spot as the number one wine region in the world.  However, troubles loom and even the winery business world needs to look deep as the situation maybe emerging that indeed the wine industry is struggling.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Is Water Conservation Good?

Conserving fresh water for people to live regular lives is as important as breathing and is essential to a quality of life … or for that matter any life at all.  However, can we go overboard and are there unintended consequences?  Is water conservation good?

Water is a precious commodity and although nearly three-quarters of the world is covered in the liquid stuff, less than five percent is fresh water (source: USGS).  Still, we have water everywhere, but as human beings, we can only live on land so getting H2O is important and vital to keeping us, well, alive.Fresh groundwater and surface-water make up the bubble over Kentucky, which is about 252 miles in diameter. The sphere over Georgia reresents fresh-water lakes and rivers (about 34.9 miles in diameter).

The water issues here in California are a concern for many and the drought has most of us preoccupied by the current problems associated with a lack of water.  Even though some in urban areas don’t feel or see the devastation going on with farms and ranches alike across the Golden State, there are still long-term ramifications for our lack of rain the last couple of years and whether you live in or out of the big city, this problem is for all to contemplate.

Big cities and fish VS small towns and farmers

Currently, the state of California has determined that fish and urban dwellers will get whatever extra waters we have while independent water districts mainly in small towns and rural areas combined with farmers and ranchers will not be given any water – none.  Go here for more on the states water and food war.

Since most of winter is behind us and long-term weather forecasts don’t show much in the way of rain, this problem is now a given: we have a shortage of water and conservation modes will have to be imposed.

File:Reverse osmosis desalination plant.JPG

Desalination units like this reverse-osmosis plant in Spain, are one of many possible solutions to a lack of water.

Now you probably thought I was going to give some insane argument against water conservation – and I do like to be a devil’s advocate – yet, there’s no doubting we live in a semi-arid world in California, so saving water must be done.  Conversely, with the Pacific Ocean on our Central Coast, there’s no reason desalination plants shouldn’t be popping up everywhere.  And catchment systems should be ubiquitously in every crevice we can place them.  People should use their god-given brain and do what’s right to conserve water the best we can.

Nearly everyone is a conservationist and environmentalist in one way or the other.  With that said, do some rush-to-judgment by creating a situation where conserving has gone too far?

The power bill goes up during the summer months as air conditioners start humming.  Walk on concrete or asphalt for awhile on a hot summer day and the feet let you know it’s hot.  It’s why we head to parks in the summer, especially those you live in big cities, to enjoy the green grass and shade trees.

Unintended consequences

Personal story: A part of the house was hotter than the other not because it was on the Electricityandwatersunny side of the property but instead, it was surrounded by rocks, succulents, cactus and dirt.  A little research found we could cool the house down by removing the rocks etc and in-place planting grass and shrubs.  Long story short, the temperatures in the warmer area of the house went down multiple degrees and in-turn, power expenditures went down.  Problem solved.  I only wished I had planted a very trick-like grass seed that is drought tolerant and hardly ever needs mowed – but cost was the problem there.

The heat rising during summer months notwithstanding, the advantage of a rock, cactus, succulent and dirt yard as far as water conservation was trumped by the cooling effects of grass and shrubs and in-turn a lower electrical bill.  So what was the deciding factor?  Comfort … and making Earth a little greener while keeping a few greenbacks in our pocket.  Plus, let’s face it, lush looks better and keeps property values higher.

Here’s another small item to keep in mind.  When we had the water shortages a few decades back in Los Angeles, people did what they were told to do and cut back significantly on water usage.  After awhile, water departments starting complaining that weren’t making any money and raised rates – again, not because there was a lack of water, but because not enough was being used.  Unintended consequences indeed.Lush versus cactus

Answer?

The answer?  This isn’t a zero-sum game and there is no direct answer here, only caution about racing to conclusions and instead, thinking out what actually is the best solution for each individual, town, community or state.  Some might feel better about themselves if they dig up their lawns and put a rock garden in with some cactus and succulents. Some feel guilty if they aren’t appearing to doing something about our planet.  That’s fine.  To each his own.  By the way, even ‘drought tolerant’ plants are struggling.

And again, without racing to a conclusion, let’s just keep in mind unintended consequences.  Keep conserving water and in the mean time, contact your local representatives about other avenues including reclaiming water or other ideas we can come up with.  Plus, it’s a good excuse to keep tabs on local politicians who seem to be more and more distant every year.

The title question is somewhat rhetorical.  Let’s all do our part; but, is the current situation a rush-to-judgment on water conservation?  What do you think?

Mahalo,

Daryle Hier

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Paso Robles Water Problem

First, I have to say that this problem has bubbled or maybe more appropriately gushed to the surface and if you live here in this great paradise now known as the world’s top Wine Region of the Year, you’ve probably heard more about than you care to admit.  So have I.waterdrop

Still, there it sits staring you right in the face.  Paso Robles and the entire North County of San Luis Obispo have water issues that we can’t ignore.  However, the problem is what to do?

Being honest, I have to admit, I’m not the guy who will come up with an answer here.  What my concern is, the politics of this problem appear to be outweighing actual functional debate as to what we can do about the lack of water.  Outside influences such as national news organizations either have no clue to what is going on or slant their views politically to aid a certain bias.  Even local news outlets can’t always be trusted as they too have a political bent to their coverage of the problems.  You will hear there is dialogue but then new groups are created because they didn’t have a voice.  So just how much dialogue is there?

Desert

If you’re not from California, you must understand that a large part of this state is desert or desert-like (semi-arid).  I’m originally from Southern California so I know that the Greater Los Angeles Area is a mostly semi-arid region that acquires most of their water from the Owens Valley east of the Sierra Nevada and also the Colorado River.  In a much smaller sense, the situation is similar for Paso Robles and sources of water come from different areas.

Paso Robles sits on the backside of the California Coastal Range and by the time the storms work their way across these mountains, they’re wrung out and we end up receiving less rain than you would expect given our location just 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean.  This past year, we received four inches of rain – that’s right, just four inches.  The drought has hurt our ground water levels and ratcheted up the pressure to do something now before later.

Up until the last 40 years or so, drought wasn’t as big a problem as folks relied on ground water from wells to supply the needs of citizens whether in town or rural.  However, the city has grown exponentially since the ‘70s while the farming or more accurately winemaking has exploded.  That growth needs water but we are sorely lacking in its supply.  It should be noted that grapes take less water than other traditional crops – for whatever that’s worth.  And still, the ground water levels are dangerously low.

http://www.steinbeckwines.com/

Large farms like Steinbeck Vineyards & Winery, which have their own water, produce needed jobs and income for the region.

The county placed restrictions on water usage but farmers who supply their own water needs with wells are fighting for control of their water.  Yesterday, lawsuits were filed against San Luis Obispo County for that exact claim.  Many entities battling for restrictions were surprised by the lawsuits – so the question there is: Were they engaging in dialogue or weren’t they?

Fighting back

Said Cindy Steinbeck, who was among the plaintiffs of the lawsuits, and is part of Steinbeck Wines a seventh generation vineyard,

“I’m convinced that fighting for my rights is the right thing to do, and I believe that as our seven-generation family stands up for our rights we are fighting for all other landowners in the Paso Robles groundwater basin as well.”

Earth has shown over and over that it can fix itself when no one thinks it can.  However, we must be stewards and not wasteful, drought or no drought.  Supply and demand should be part of the regulator for what happens going forward.  If water is too expensive, people will do with less or pay a premium for it.

Farms in this region like Steinbeck Wines have somewhat insulated and steadied this town from the vagaries of a Great Recession.  Whether we like it or not, this is a company town in that how goes the wine industry, so goes our local economy.

Careful what you wish for - or as another saying goes:  You reap what you sow.

Careful what you wish for – or as another saying goes: You reap what you sow.

Yes, Paso Robles has a water problem, nevertheless are rash rulings the answer?  Again, I don’t have those answers but until a fair and equitable agreement can be reached by all parties, we endanger the reasons we all live in this little paradise on the Central Coast of California.  What’s fair?  That may be the $64 million question but regardless, we must be cognizant of and balance everyone’s needs.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

http://pasowinebarrels.com/