Newsletter

In this June 2014 newsletter:

Mendocino Wineries Wow Trade and Media
Irrigating Bloom to Harvest With Limited Water
New Infrastructure May Reduce Vineyard Risk From Future Droughts
Managing Risk: Spray Drift Challenges Vineyards With Nearby Neighbors
Mendocino Grape Market Shows Changes: MWI releases 2014 Market Analysis to all Members
Frost Season 2015: Courts Reverse, Uphold Russian River Frost Rules
Briefs, Tidbits, and a Rumor
2014 Accolades


You can download a PDF version of this newsletter or copies of previous newsletters: April 2013,  September 2012,  November 2012 .

 

Mendocino Wineries Wow Trade and Media

With 39 wineries attending this year’s Taste of Mendocino (TOM) 2014 left a strong impression with the media and trade guests who attended. 
 
MWI and Visit Mendocino co-host this annual event, which showcases Mendocino wineries and travel destinations in the County. This year’s event, held June 10th at the Presidio Golden Gate Club, attracted 250 trade and media professionals. 
In addition to the wine tasting, guests participated in three workshops highlighting the unique aspects of Mendocino County. Guests packed into the seminar room to learn about sparkling wine, Zinfandel, and Pinot Blanc from the Shrader Ranch. The topics were selected to be educational while showcasing some of the region’s most exciting wines. 
 
“TOM is about building connections between wineries and our trade and media guests,” commented Aubrey Rawlins from MWI. The event is held on a Tuesday, Rawlins explained, because trade and media are more likely to attend early in the week. 
 
Jen Dalton of Kitchen Table Consulting lead the planning team for the event, Robert Rainwater drove the social media effort, and James Wasson of Knez Winery handled the workshops expertly. The planning committee also included Alison de Grassi and Gracia Brown of Visit Mendocino County, Maria Martinson of Testa Vineyards, and Scott Willoughby of Seebass Family Vineyards.
 

Irrigating Bloom to Harvest with Limited Water 

Contributed by Glenn McGourty
 
California and the other Pacific Coast states are facing an unprecedented drought. In California, calendar year 2013 was the driest one on record. Many large reservoirs and ponds are very low, and numerous water providers are curtailing water deliveries to their customers. November 13, 2013 to January 31, 2014 were the driest winter months on record since weather records have been kept in California. Fortunately February and March provided near normal rainfall for those months, but we are still far below normal precipitation for this year. Continued dryness and limited water for irrigation are posed to be the defining challenge for the 2014 growing season.
 
What is a Winegrower To Do? 
You are going to want to use your water at strategic points in the growing season to bring in the crop in good condition and quality.
This article draws on the experiences of Australian “vignerons” (winegrowers) who faced devastating droughts in 2006-2007 and learned useful irrigation strategies in a drought. A summary of Australian approach to irrigation can be found in Table 1. This water allocation can be a useful guide, despite the differences in climates and soils between Mendocino County and Australia.  
 
Table 1: Managing Water for Growth Stages
Source: Clare Regional Winegrape Growers Association, South Australia, 2002

Growth Stage

Water Management

  % Total Water Use   

Dormant

Rainfall, light irrigation

 ?

Bud break to flowering         

Light to moderate irrigation, if no rain

9%

Flowering to fruit set

Irrigation critical for fruit set

6%

Fruit set to veraison

Hold back: practice RDI

35%

Veraison to harvest

Irrigate to keep the leaves on, ripen fruit       

36%

Harvest to leaf fall

Nice to irrigate if you can

14%

 
Strategies From Fruit Set To Veraison
Once the crop is set, hold back on irrigation so that you don’t encourage excessive canopy growth. Practice Regulated deficit irrigation (RDI) so that you devigorate the vine, produce loose clusters that color well, but still keep the vine from becoming so stressed that it stops photosynthesizing. (Note: for an excellent guide to RDI, download Wine Grape Irrigation Techniques by Terry Prichard: http://cesanjoaquin.ucanr.edu/files/ 35706.pdf)
 
Healthy canes - about 3.5 feet long with eight healthy leaves and two clusters - are a strong indicator of a balanced vine. If the shoots are more like 24- 30 inches long, you should leave only one cluster on the cane. You want to irrigate enough to keep the foliage on the vine in healthy condition, but not a drop more. 
Ripening fruit takes water, so if water isn’t available at this point it is advisable to remove fruit to minimize permanent damage to the vines. If you only have a limited amount of water, thin your crop early to give it the best chance of ripening normally without dehydrating and raisining.
 
Veraison to Harvest 
Hopefully you have saved enough water to irrigate for the last part of the season. You want to ripen your crop with actively photosynthesizing green leaves. If the leaves start to fall off, you may ripen your crop by dehydration. Fruit may reach desired sugar levels, but acidity will almost certainly be high, pH will be low, and winemaking may become a challenge—yeasts do not like to grow under high acid/low pH conditions. With must that is high brix and low pH stuck fermentations are a real possibility. 
 
Irrigations should target the fine roots beneath the emitters. This means short, slightly more frequent irrigations around 6-8 hours in medium textured soils twice a week. Long soaks may not be effective because deep roots will be fairly inactive unless the season starts with a full soil profile. In general, once the lower soil profiles dry out from plant water use, it is hard to replenish the moisture supply in an effective way. 
 
Remember that a smaller crop is likely to ripen sooner. Stay in close contact with your winery customers so that no one is surprised by sudden ripening. It also isn’t unusual for smaller crops to mature at lower sugar levels. Tasting fruit, examining seeds for ripeness, and picking by pH and titratable acidity, rather than percent brix of sugar are going to be important ways to determine ripeness. 
 
Harvest and Post Harvest If you successfully bring in a decent crop of high quality fruit,   start by irrigating yourself with a good glass of wine or beer! Bringing the crop in with a limited amount of irrigation is a great accomplishment worth celebrating. Then, if any water is left, think about post harvest irrigation, especially if there is still growing season left, and the vines still have green leaves. This helps to set up a healthy start for the next year, and also protects vines from winter kill. On the other hand, retaining any available water may be a prudent hedge on water security.
 
Final Thoughts 
My Australian friends have dropped fruit, pruned vines severely and just taken their chances. When water became available again, many of the vineyards resumed a normal growth pattern and started to produce regular crops. Grape vines are tough. 
 
It is important to remember that many vineyards in Australia are on their own roots, and that they use vigorous rootstocks when rootstocks are needed. They use less water than most American winegrowers—they always have and always will. They also avoid rootstocks with Vitis riparia in the parentage, as these rootstocks perform poorly under dry conditions (such as 101-14, SO4, 5C).
 
Droughts are likely to happen as the west goes through its climate cycles. Planning for it with vineyards that are more drought resistant (variety and rootstock choice); developing more water storage both on farm and on a regional basis, and learning how to use water as carefully and precisely as possible are all future practices to consider.
 
Table 2: Water Status By Region:

Redwood Valley: District water is cut off. Vineyards with ponds are OK, since little water was used for frost. Vineyards without ponds are in crisis.

Potter Valley:Late rains helped secure improved flows in the East branch of the Russian River. Water supply seems adequate at the moment.

Anderson Valley: Surface water use is prohibited due to bypass flow requirements (at least for legal pumpers). Ponds are average to low.

Russian River: Appropriative rights are curtailed. Riparian rights are next to be cut. District water from RRFC is stable. Pond status is average.

 
Special thanks to my friends from Australia who contributed information to this article: 
Michael McCarthy, PIRSA-SARDI, Barossa Valley, SA
Chris Penfold, University of Adelaide, Roseworthy, SA
Glyn Ward, Dept. of Food and Agriculture, WA
Ian Goodwin, Dept. of Environment and Primary Industries, VA
Peter Dry, University of Adelaide, Waite, SA
 

New Infrastructure May Reduce Vineyard Risk from Future Droughts 

A collection of new water infrastructure projects are moving forward under the backdrop of the extreme drought.
When droughts strike agriculture is always last in line for limited water, so any improvements to our water systems are likely to be positive for agriculture.
Recycled water has long been on the list of essential improvements in the Ukiah Valley. For years the Ukiah Treatment Plant has struggled to get rid of tertiary treated wastewater while adjacent vineyards struggled to find a reliable water source.
 
With $2 million in funding from the Integrated Regional Water Management Plan (IRWMP), a new distribution system for this recycled water is soon to break ground With this first phase, an 8” mainline will deliver up to 1200 acre feet annually to adjacent vineyards. The water, available for both irrigation and frost protection, allows farmers to “disconnect” from the troubled waters of the Russian River. 
 
“Recycled water is one of the most reliable water sources out there” commented a smiling Sean White from the RRFC. “Even in a drought year, you can count on this water source.”
Two vineyard ponds, just south of the treatment plant, stand ready to receive water. 
 
The project, when fully developed, may supply as much as 4,000 acre feet to regional vineyards, the Ukiah Golf Course, and other major water users.
Additional funding from IRWMP will allow the City of Ukiah to drill three new wells to augment its water supply. If successful, these wells will further reduce demand on the Russian River, a direct benefit to local farmers that currently share the limited flows of the Russian with the City.
 
Interties between the various water districts along the Russian River are also a priority for drought funding. Several projects are in the works, but the first new inter-tie between Redwood Valley and Calpella is in the ground and ready to move water. 
 
The six inch pipe is only designed to handle modest flows in “emergency” situations, but given Redwood Valley’s precarious situation that emergency may be sooner rather than later. Redwood Valley’s water intake is likely to go dry this fall as water levels in Lake Mendocino fall to unprecedented lows.
 
At the same time the water management at Lake Mendocino continues to defy common sense. Because storage topped 50,000 acre feet on a critical June 1 measurement date,  the dam operations were shifted from “critically dry” to the “dry” regime. As a result daily releases were increased by a factor of three and Lake storage will decrease rapidly this summer and possibly reach unprecedented lows by late fall. Tours of some historic Coyote Valley vineyards may be available this fall.
 
No major progress is evident on Congressman Huffman’s Forecast Act, which would force changes in water management policies at Lake Mendocino. The bill, HR 3988, is currently  assigned to the Subcommittee on  Water Resources and the Environment. 
 

Managing Risk: 

Spray Drift Challenges Vineyards with Nearby Neighbors

As suburban sprawl encroaches on agricultural land, there has been an uptick in complaints levied against vineyards by neighboring residents. Noise from tractors or wind machines are a common complaint. Odors are another concern.
 
But these nuisance complaints are far less threatening to a vineyard operation than a spray drift complaint. 
 
Last summer a complaint of spray drift was formally filed with the Mendocino County Ag Commissioner. The events that unfolded over the following two weeks should serve as a reminder to all vineyards to make sure they are minimizing spray drift and using best practices to minimize the chances of fines or other penalties.
 
Once a complaint is filed with the Ag Commissioner the office is legally required to begin an investigation. In the summer of 2013 the investigation moved quickly. The unnamed vineyard, once contacted by the Ag department, confirmed that they had sprayed at the site in question. Within 72 hours the Ag Department had completed a site visit with sampling. The sampling protocol included sample sites within the vineyard as well as sample positions at set distances outside the vineyard fence. The samples were sent to lab with instructions to test for the residue from the fungicide Inspire. The lab results came back positive.
 
Eliminating 100% of spray drift is a tough challenge. A spray rig, by definition, is designed to mobilize the spray material to get it out of the spray tank and onto the grapevines. But once we mobilize the spray how do we ensure that it sticks of the grapevines and doesn't drift onto a neighboring property?  Going back to events of 2013, the investigation entered uncharted territory once the lab results came back positive. Spray drift is a violation of the pesticide label, and violating label requirements is a violation of state law. That same state law also recognizes that spray drift can occur.  In other words, the decision could go either way. Fortunately the vineyard was able to document numerous best practices. An audit of pesticide handling, storage, and reporting showed no problems.
 
Weather data, from the vineyard's Agcomm station, showed near perfect spray conditions for the night in question. Most importantly, there was no measureable wind.
 
The vineyard was also able to show that the spray rig was a newer design and in good repair. These findings showed that the vineyard was following the rules and using best practices to minimize drift. Lastly, the vineyard was also able to argue that the lab results, 16 part per billion, were far below the human health threshold set by the EPA. For perspective, it is considered safe to DRINK arsenic at a concentration of 10 parts per billion for your entire life. Given these mitigating factors, no fines were ultimately levied against the vineyard. Nonetheless, all vineyards adjacent to ANY residence are at risk of a drift complaint and legal action. The events of 2013 remind us farmers that we need to make sure we manage our spray programs to minimize any drift with our neighbors.
 
Protect your farm from drift complaints:
  • Make sure your spray equipment is in good repair and modern in design
  • Double check that your pesticide storage, handling, and reporting practices are fully compliant
  • Either get a weather station that records wind speed and direction, or make sure your spray applicator documents the weather conditions each time they spray. And document each time you cancel a spray due to adverse conditions.
  • Eliminate the use of chemicals that your neighbors might consider “scary”. Avoid chemicals with EPA danger and warning labels. Avoid anything with strong odors (such as Goal).
  • It is harder to prove drift when the application was a naturally occurring chemical (such as sulfur, micronutrients, or many salts). 
  • MOST IMPORTANT: Make good relations with your neighbors. 

 

Mendocino Grape Market Shows Changes: 

MWI releases 2014 Market Analysis to All Members 

A recently published analysis of the North Coast grape market identifies Mendocino’s strengths and weaknesses. This report will help both wineries and grape growers understand recent changes in the market and anticipate subsequent economic impacts.
 
The report details the market conditions for each of Mendocino’s top varietals: Chardonnay, Sauv Blanc, Cabernet Sauv, Merlot, Pinot, Syrah, and Zin. 
As compared to the rest of the North Coast growing region, Mendocino is most heavily vested in Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Syrah. The dominance of Chardonnay is growing, according to the report. While Mendocino farms 13% of the North Coast grape acreage, its share of Chardonnay acreage is 21% and rising.
 
The report shows that grape price volatility—the year to year increases and declines — is substantially higher in the Mendocino market than in adjacent regions. For example, in the last five years Chardonnay prices have risen or fallen by an average of 10% each year. The comparable figure for Sonoma Chardonnay is 4% and the figure for Napa fruit is just 3%. 
 A very strong pattern linking grape prices with the size of each sale is explored in the report. With almost all varietals, smaller lots of fruit sell for a 30% to 50% premium over the price of larger lots of fruit. 
 
The report also dispels several commonly heard myths. For example, it is often said that Napa and Sonoma counties are “fully planted.” The report finds more newly planted acreage in these regions than in Mendocino. 
 
Mendocino growers have reacted differently than Napa and Sonoma growers to the challenges of Syrah and Merlot. According to the report Mendocino growers have stuck by Merlot - whereas Napa and Sonoma have removed nearly 50% of their plantings) In contrast, Mendocino is moving away from Syrah - having removed 20% of plantings - while Napa and Sonoma growers remain committed to the varietal.
 

Typical Mendocino Harvest

% Tonnage

Estate Fruit, crushed in-house

18%

Sold To Mendocino Wineries

10%

Custom Crush

14%

Sold Out-of-County

58%

 
 

Frost Season 2015: 

Courts Reverse, Uphold Russian River Frost Rules

An appellate court has upheld the State Water Resources Board’s rules for regulating water use by vineyards for frost protection. The ruling potentially affects over three hundred Mendocino County vineyards on 12,000 acres within the Russian River watershed. A large number of Sonoma County vineyards are also affected.
 
The frost rules, first proposed in 2011, required vineyards to submit a water management plan to the Water Board. Without Water Board approval for each plan, the vineyard could be legally barred from using water for frost protection, regardless of riparian or appropriative rights to the water. The rule applies to all vineyards that use water from the Russian River and tributaries to the river. 
 
In spring of 2012 numerous Mendocino County vineyards attempted to comply with the new regulations. All of these plans were rejected by the Water Board, even those from vineyards that stated their intent not to divert from the river during frost events.The regulations were overturned in late 2012 by Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Ann Moorman.
 
It is unclear at this time if further legal challenges will stall the rules, or even if the Water Board will push forward with the 2011 regulations. Any legal appeal must be filed by July 25.
The Water Board claims the rules were designed to protect fish from standing during rapid de-watering of the river during frost events. Ten salmon fry were killed in this manner during the frosts of 2008. However, the need for regulation on this issue is increasingly vague.
 
Since 2008 numerous vineyards have build off-stream storage to supply water for frost protection, thus reducing drawdown of the river by about 125cfs. During this same period, vineyards, in coordination with Russian River Flood Control District and Sonoma County Water, have used “compensatory releases” from Lake Mendocino to boost the supply of water in the river at the times of highest demand. Together both of the changes have prevented any repeats of the 2008 river drawdown in the six subsequent years.
 

Briefs, Tidbits, and a Rumor

AVWA Rocks the Pinot Festival  The 17th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival was another resounding success. The event was sold out (again!) with 695 paid tickets, scores of press, and 49 wineries pouring Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. In addition to the Grand Tasting, the event included a technical conference, a casual BBQ on Friday, five winemaker dinners, and open houses at all the wineries on Sunday. 

Heidi Dickerson  Heidi Dickerson has been named the Program Director of the Leadership Mendocino program. Heidi has been a devoted advocate of the Mendocino wine industry and we know she will do a great job with Leadership Mendocino. The program is a training ground for local leaders,. with educational workshops, networking, and business research. The program dives deep into the Mendocino culture and economy.

Mendocino First Class  Flying first class to London on British Airways? Be sure to request a glass of Mendocino Pinot Noir. Masut Vineyard is the wine of choice for flights in the second half of 2014. No Jake, this doesn’t mean you are now a member of the mile high club. 

Redwood Valley Toasts the Fathers  With open houses and a combined winemaker dinner, the wineries of Redwood Valley celebrated Father’s Day. The 23rd annual Taste of Redwood Valley was sponsored by the region’s eight wineries. This event, at age 23, is one of Mendocino’s longest running tasting events.

Summer Help   The mission to promote Mendocino  is getting a hand this summer from MWI intern Sara Adan. Sara has been in Ukiah for over a year, and comes to us from Sacramento State University where she's pursuing a Master's Degree in Public Policy and Administration. Welcome Sara.

New Digs   The MWI offices have moved to 390 W. Standley St (just a couple door West of the old Ukiah Post Office). The new digs provide a bit more space. As Aubrey puts it, “it is our new little office.” All are welcome to drop in and say hi to Aubrey and Sara.

and Finally, the Rumor  Harvest begins August 10th? Jim Nelson is often the first to pick grapes in the County. His James Vineyard, between Hopland and Ukiah, is a prime Chardonnay location for sparkling wine. Jim is calling the first day of 2014 harvest as August 10. ‘We have picked that day before,” explains Jim, “so it isn't that early.”

 

2014 Accolades 

With “best of show,” “best of class,” and 90 point scores Mendocino wines show their stuff. 
 
California State Fair: McFadden Cuvee Brut, Navarro Late Harvest Riesling and Pinot Blanc, Fetzer Moscato, Castle Rock Pinot Noir.
Orange County Fair: Yorkville Cellars Cuvee Brut
North of the Gate: Navarro Late Harvest Riesling. 
North Coast Wine Challenge: Husch Late Harvest Gewurztraminer.
SF Chronicle Wine Competition: Husch Chardonnay, Castello di Amorosa Gewürztraminer, and Campovida Grenache.
Wine Enthusiast: Williams Selyem Pinot Noir, Chaname Pinot Noir, Donkey & Goat Pinot Noir, Black Kite Pinot Noir, Stark Syrah, Fulcrum Pinot Noir, Sean Thackery Petite Sirah, Drew Syrah, Albarino and Pinot Noir, V Sattui Riesling and Gewurztraminer, Foursight Pinot Noir, Witching Stick Pinot Noir, and Carol Shelton Rose.
Wine Spectator:  Roederer Estate Brut, Black Kite Pinot Noir, Lazy Creek Pinot Noir, Auteur Pinot Noir, Couloir Pinot Noir, Donum Pinot Noir, Carpe Diem Pinot Noir, Davies Vineyards,  and Carol Shelton Zinfandel.