Sunday, April 27, 2008

San Diego County Winery Ordinance Approved

The San Diego County Winery Ordinance was passed this week, making it easier for "boutique wineries" located in the rural areas of the county to open tasting rooms on their property and to sell wine directly to the public. What's easier is the fact that an administrative use permit -- a process that could typically cost up to $40,000 -- will not be required. (Click here for more information about the ordinance and obstacles to getting it passed.) We'll have to see how difficult it is to get the other permits required, such as a bond from the Bureau of Alcohol (to operate a "bonded warehouse"), a license to sell wine and what health permits are required. It is a smart move by the County's leaders to encourage production of drought tolerant crops (i.e., grapes). I spoke with one grower in Fallbrook yesterday, who told me he has yet to irrigate his vines this year. (It's over 90 degrees outside this weekend, and my avocado trees are wilting -- they have needed water this year.) Commentators often referred to the Winery Ordinance as the "Ramona Winery Ordinance -- as that is where the supporters (led by the insurmountable Carolyn Harris) are based. But the ordinance effects all rural areas of the County, including "Blue-Merle Country", which is more popularly know as "Hidden-Meadows" -- a community north of Escondido. I expect that the members of the Hidden-Meadows Winemakers Association will come together in an effort to provide great tasting wines to the public -- and to help offset some of our growing expenses. (Who knows -- we might even eek out a small profit someday.) In this regard, the proprietor of Belle Marie Winery (a professional operation in Escondido) who also lives in the Hidden Meadows area, already has a tasting room under construction! Having Belle Marie Winery located so close provides a solid anchor to the boutique winery business in this part of the County. We can think of Belle Marie as the "mothership" whose education programs (often taught by Lum Eisenman, the icon of San Diego winemaking) in winemaking techniques have certainly benefited "The Blue-Merle Winery" and other fledgling winemakers in the area. It's exciting to think about the possibility of our infant wineries in the neighborhood growing, then coming together to offer walking & tasting tours from one winery to the next, while taking in scenic views of the vineyards, the mountains and views out to the Pacific ocean.

Speaking of education at Belle Marie, the winery hosted a dinner last night with Camillo (the icon of vineyard management from Guadeloupe Valley) as the guest speaker. Camillo spoke about his research project which involves almost 100 varietals on different rootstocks in an attempt to identify the vines best suited for growing in Guadeloupe Valley -- where grapes have been grown for hundreds of years. "A lot of people talk about research," said Mick, owner of Belle Marie. "Camillo is actually doing it," he said, commenting that such efforts are very rare.

Here is a message from Caroyln Harris about the ordinance:

"On a vote of 4-0 today (Ron Roberts was absent) the Supervisors voted to approve the boutique wineries as a right of zoning, without waiting foran EIR and without needing any permits. The county can still be sued onthis during the next 30 days, and we'll have to hold our breath. TheSupervisors agreed with the Planning Commission that an EIR was NOTtriggered, contrary to the advice of their DPLU and County Councilstaffs. The ordinance that was passed gives clear sailing to wineries on public roads. Wineries on private roads will still have some major challenges,and may need to get an administrative use permit. "

(Editor's Note: May 19th. The ordinance was rescinded last week! Hold your horses!)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More Trouble: Training 2nd Year Vines

The vines have been in the ground for one year. We pruned as instructed this winter; a couple of inches above the cordon wire, in the expectation of taking new shoots from below the wire and fashioning even, strong cordons. Friends, if I were doing this again, I would watch out for pruning "above the wire", especially for vigorous vines. What happened is that the new growth came in significantly above the wire, and it's difficult to bend those puppies down without breaking them off. We're wondering if we just need to top the vines and start all over? (Note: A quick call to the consultant Frank: his advice: do not top the vines; if necessary, clip the vines shooting straight up; that should force new growth below the shoot, in a more horizontal direction.) The Queen is trying Japanese gardening techniques to slowly bend the fast growing, skyward bound shoots. The vineyard consultant suggested no need to "top off" the vines again, but to cut the shoots near the base, and the bud may send forth a new shoot. I was outside at 6a.m. this morning, attempting to bend some vines, but not having the Japanese touch, broke quite a few. Friends, this is not a happy day for us in crafting this vineyard. I remind myself: patience, patience, patience. Vineyard is art. Plenty of "hoot hoot hoot-hoot" sounds, but no sign of a visitor to our owl box yet. Jerry reports that the conditions are not yet ripe for mildew (something else to worry about). The gophers have been having a field day -- as I was out of town, and the weeds are on the counter attack. That damned plastic thread in the weed whacker is no fun at all to change. Send me the weekend, please!

(We found the Aglianico vines, which are on less vigorous root stock and much "thinner" than the Tempranillo vines which are on vigorous stock -- to be much easier to train. Thank goodness!)

(Note from May 15th -- The Tempranillo vines, on a vigorous, drought resistant rootstock, have been growing like crazy -- indeed, shoots that had been accidentally broken off have been replaced, and the gaps in cordons are filling in. Things are coming along well. Alas, the pruning advice we received was right on. And, an important lesson learned: The new shoots are coming in thick and healthy. In the winter, I hesitated to cut off the weaker 1st year cordons -- but now I see that in year 2, they can be replaced with a much stronger cordon, and so I'm cutting them off, in favor of the new growth.

(Note from December 11, 2008 -- The 2nd year vines grew fairly well, mostly. There were a few where we did break off some cordons, so there are some gaps. No worries though. We'll plant some more vines in between the gaps, with shorter cordons, which should yield better fruit. If you are planning to plant your own vineyard, study the variable on spacing. We're hearing that shorter cordons produce more intense fruit, and better tasting wines. We have about 250 first year vines that we'll be pruning and training in February 2009. This year, we have let them grow "wild" without any training at all -- not one cut. Pruning will be a challenge, but the stalks of these vines are healthier/thicker than last year's first year vines. When we "top" these vines in February, it will be just a bit above the cordon -- most of this year's vines we planted 4-feet apart.)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Springtime In The Vineyard

First signs of bud break came a month ago on the thinner vines, which are sending forth shoots with baby grapes attached, framed below by purple lavender in full bloom. The California Lilac has come and gone. The baby bunnies have come and gone. Apricot blossoms have come and gone, but have left behind the beginnings of sweet fruit. The pin cushon proteas are sprouting yellow. Front yard roses are casting off full blooms. The first sharpshooter on a vine adjacent to our neighbor's citrus grove is spotted. With hoe in hand we fight a loosing battle against a hundred thousand foxtails taking shape. Birds make nest in the eves of the house as we wish for a majestic owl to make his home in the special box provided . Bluey rests under a fecund lemon tree. While we sleep under cotton sheets, gophers work through the night constructing a super highway of byzantine tunnels under ground. It's springtime in the vineyard.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

San Diego Winery Ordinance Back On Track?

A couple of weeks ago, a small group of Ramona, CA residents opposed to San Diego County's back country becoming another Napa Valley succeeded in throwing up a roadblock by proposing that a full environmental impact statement be completed before the proposal be brought to the County Commissioners for a final yes vote. The vote had been scheduled for the end of March, but with an EIS looming, the vote appeared to be delayed for weeks, if not months and years at significant public expense. This request for the full EIS came very late in the game, and was quite a surprise to supporters who have painstakingly been working with the county government for years to assist in the drafting of a sound measure.

Carolyn Harris of the Ramona Vineyard Association reports the following breaking news:

"Today the San Diego County Planning Commission considered the DPLU's [Department of Land Use] newest recommendation to (1) require an administrative use permit for all boutique wineries to make direct sales, while (2) an environmental impact report is prepared. After an extended discussion and some excellent presentations by RVVA [Ramona Valley Vineyard Association] members, Eric Larson of the San Diego County Farm Bureau, and Carol Fowler of the Ramona Chamber of Commerce, the Planning Commission voted4-3 in favor of rejecting the new recommendations and instead agreeing to forward to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors the same draft of the ordinance that they approved on 7 March 2008.The consensus of the Planning Commission (including Ramona's Bryan Woods, appointed by Supervisor Dianne Jacob) was that none of the opposition's arguments against the 17 Jan 08 revised mitigated negative declaration rose to the level that should trigger an EIR (that the proposed project will have a significant effect on the environment). The Planning Commission appeared unanimous in wanting to do what they could to move the ordinance forward as quickly and safely as possible.The action that was taken today does not insure that we are back on track, or that the major reversal of 20 March has been entirely reversed again. What it does mean is that we have a lot of support for our measure and that the Planning Commission is not afraid to stand up for us. We appreciate their support." -- Carolyn Harris, Ramona Valley Winery Association & Ramona Valley Vineyard Association Secretary and General Counsel.

The proposal makes sense for San Diego for several reasons, including:

1) Promotes the rural character of the county, encouraging agricultural use of the land with a low water usage, drought resistant crop (grapes). This will become particularly important in the future if current weather patterns continue and politics reduce water deliveries to Southern California.

2) It's difficult to make much money as a low volume grape grower in San Diego county. The money is to made (or at least most of the costs covered) by the value-added activity of producing and selling wine.

3) The ordinance would allow small, boutique wineries to legally sell the fruit of their labor (wine)to the general public, without obtaining a major land use permit (which requires much time and expense for a small grower/producer).

4) The ordinance promotes the growing and use of locally grown grapes. (I can attest to that ourselves, when we purchased 100% of our grapes from San Diego in 2007; whereas in past years we have purchased from Riverside County and Mexico).

Friends, free the grapes! Allow the good people of San Diego the benefit of living in a land dotted with boutique wineries. If this ordinance is passed, then it will be possible for you, too, to purchase Bluey's finest wine from the Blue-Merle Vineyard. If you live in San Diego County and have a favorable opinion about this, please let your elected County Official know.

(Picture shown is vineyard planted in April, 2008 in Fallbrook, CA.)

(Editor's note: The San Diego Winery Ordinance was passed the week of April 24th. See our journal entry for April 27th for additional information.)

Friday, April 4, 2008

Air Combat Against the Gophers: Installing The Owl Box

We selected the highest spot on the property, with a view of the vineyard below and snow capped mountains beyond, for "Hoot", the nickname the princess gave to our future pet, the barn owl.

Al Gore and I invented the LCD computer projector (1991).

Al Gore and I invented the earphone-mic for cellular phones (1997).

And now, "Owl" Gore and I have come up with a way to reduce the use of pesticides in the environment, by installing boxes for barn owls in the vineyard (2008).

"Lord, good Lord, send us an owl... Lord, oh Lord, send us an owl..." The gophers have been attacking and taunting us on several fronts, keeping me from seeing the movie "Caddie Shack."

Patrick Burke of Escondido, CA can sell you a pre-fabricated owl house for $49 -- folks, the materials alone would probably cost you that much. Call him at (760) 746-8454.

Gentle readers, you know by now that I have no ability whatsoever as a farmer or as a grower, so you will be pleased to know that for the first time in my life I'm really proud of myself: I was able to figure out a way to put that owl box 16' into the air all by myself, by nailing together two 8' left over end-posts (normally used for the vineyard trellis system). I nailed the box to the top of the pole, and the Princess helped me hoist it into position. Yes, mom, the box is still standing.

We are now waiting for THE OWL. The Princess calls him "Hoot." I may end up calling him Godot. Either way, he is Owl [gore the gophers!].

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Dangers of Drinking Beer

(Editor's Note: My good friend Jon M. sent me this warning. Be sure and click the link to the informational video at the end. Thank goodness wine drinkers don't have this problem!)

Police are warning all men who frequent clubs, parties and local pubs to be alert and stay cautious when offered a drink from any woman. Many females use a date rape drug on the market called 'Beer.' The drug is found in liquid form and is available anywhere. It comes in bottles, cans, or from taps and in large 'kegs'. Beer is used by female sexual predators at parties and bars to persuade their male victims to go home and sleep with them. A woman needs only to get a guy to consume a few units of Beer and then simply ask him home for no strings attached sex. Men are rendered helpless against this approach. After several beers, men will often succumb to the desires to sleep with horrific looking women to whom they would never normally be attracted. After drinking beer, men awake with only hazy memories of exactly what happened to them the night before , often with just a vague feeling that 'something bad' occurred. At other times these unfortunate men are swindled out of their life's savings in a familiar scam known as 'a relationship.' In extreme cases, the female may even be shrewd enough to entrap the unsuspecting male into a longer term form of servitude and punishment referred to as 'marriage.' Men are much more susceptible to this scam after beer is administered and sex is offered by the predatory females. Please, forward this warning to every male you know! If you fall victim to this 'Beer' scam and the women administering it, there are male support groups where you can discuss the details of your shocking encounter with similarly victimized men. For the support group nearest you, just look up Taverns in the phone book.

For a video to see how exactly how beer works click here: Beer Demo