The weather station on the Vineyard measured only 6.5 inches of rain. This number was not unusual throughout the Central Coast. Conditions are so dry, there have already been a few fires in the Santa Ynez Valley. The most significant, the White Fire, burned 1800 acres of wilderness about 25 miles east of Stolpman Vineyards.
The conditions excite quality-obsessed farmers with strong, deep-rooted vineyards full of vines accustomed to getting the crap kicked out of them. Ruben has an even wider smile than usual as he surveys the short canopies, small leaves, and tiny clusters. From these strong vineyards, 2013 has the potential to be great. As the vines awoke from dormancy in mid-April, the cover crops were already brown. With no water left in the topsoil, the vines trenched in for a long fight to survive. The tiny clusters that have since bloomed are even smaller than usual. The vines now are focusing whatever energy they can muster to grow their shoots a bit higher. The goal: to grow a few more small leaves, boost photosynthesis, and ripen the crop of fruit that will surely burst with concentrated flavor.
Apart from the shorter canopies, the dry winter has also created perfectly even growth. All of the vines are dealing with uniformly arid conditions. The vineyard sits on one slab of Limestone, so any water that did absorb through the topsoil, returned to the water table 300 feet down, below the porous rock. The perfectly symmetrical rows look beautiful fluttering in the afternoon wind, getting relief via the arctic flow of Pacific Ocean sitting off of Vandenberg Air force Base.
Unfortunately, young plantings, mature vines on low-vigor root stock, and all the plain Jane conventionally farmed vineyards are getting flooded with irrigation right now. These weak vineyards will not be able to survive through the season without water. Because of this rampant irrigation addiction, 2013 will produce a lot of California mediocrity for yet another vintage. The vines will get their regular fix of water right up through September, pumping up huge canopies, clusters, and diluted grapes. Greed for large crops negates the opportunity to achieve greatness for too many vineyards.
Our babies, the newer plantings, had their last drink in May, as they too, will have to learn how to survive the summer.