Introducing Peay Estate Tempranillo

Back in May, some folks from the Nature Conservancy stopped by the vineyard. As part of the research that would form open space and wildland conservation policy for the area, they wanted to know the desires and behavior of an environmentally-conscientious grapegrower. The policy makers explained that their long-term interest in this part of the world was due to a certainty that the global warming phenomenon would make inland California a vast desert and drive more species toward lightly populated, coastal California. One of them asked, as many of you have, what are we doing to plan for the rise in temperatures? Fiddling while Rome burns?

Well, this may be the hinterlands, but we are not sitting on the porch fiddling. We are trying to reduce the heat trapping emissions that we produce on our farm: Back some eight years ago when I was researching the biodiesel that we use in our tractors, I learned that burning biodiesel produces something like 70% less CO2 and 50% less particulate emissions than regular diesel. I try to remember this benefit while my stomach growls in response to the smell of French fries from the burning oil. And you can be reassured that my commuting to our remote location is with a hybrid vehicle. And, as you know, we put in an array of solar panels a few years ago alongside the reservoir and on the roof of the winery. “That’s all nice”, the Conservancy folks said but, specifically, they wanted to know if I should be thinking about shifting the varieties that we grow toward more heat-loving winegrapes, like Cabernet, or even Tempranillo.

This supposition brings to light two different ways we know or learn: direct experience versus secondhand information gathering (like the news). My direct experience at the vineyard over the last six vintages has given me no sign of a general warming. The news reported that the previous April was the warmest the globe has experienced since humans began measuring April temperatures. Here, we had ~11 ½ inches of rain. The vines were leafed out, but the leaves that had been out the longest were looking haggard; some spotted, some brown edged, most of them battered by wind. And again, due to the chilly winter and early spring, we were late getting started, buds opening around March 25th instead of March 15th. This past July is yet again another cool, foggy month with temperatures rarely breaking 70 degrees. We’ve had a “dust settler” of a couple tenths of an inch to almost two inches almost every September starting with 2005 and up to five inches in October. I know it hasn’t always been like this, and a few or even a dozen years is not meaningful when talking about climatic trends. But, there have definitely been a string of wet and chilly Springs, later Spring rains, and an earlier return of rains in the Fall. Warmer? No. Drier? No. More erratic and intense storms and stretches of weather? Well, maybe.

How is this affecting us? It is a good thing that Syrah is well-accustomed to October rains, since we’ve had them every October since 2004. The thick skins and loose clusters can, for the most part, withstand the moisture. And the trend of year-to-year total rainfall has not been consistent, but cyclical, following the El Niño cycle. In this past El Niño winter, we received around 68 inches. But my read of the best climate data and news out there is that the world is unquestionably warming, and, quite likely, my corner of the world will eventually warm, too. It just doesn’t seem like it has over the past 15 years. But should I act on the broader global trends in warming weather?

It all depends on one’s perception of time: How long will these Pinot/Chardonnay/Syrah vines be in the ground versus how fast is the climate changing? I am exceedingly busy dealing with the season that Mother Nature is giving me right now: cool, even for Pinot noir, but with enough day length into October that we can ripen Syrah. Maybe. I can’t imagine I’ll be ripping cool climate vines out in my lifetime, though. Ask me in a dozen years about planning for the coming heat wave. For now, I’m intensely focused on bringing this year’s crop to readiness at the peak of its potential. Hopefully.

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