Sunday, March 22, 2015

Drought in the Rattlesnake Hills - Revisited, Or California It's Not



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What does the California Drought and the Yakima Valley drought have in common? Well, they are both on the west coast and if you are from 'back east' you know that states are only an hour apart. (Out west, counties are sometimes an hour apart usually more.) Beyond sharing the same coast, not much is the same regarding the two droughts.
First of all, California's drought is in its third year. The reservoirs are empty. Ground water is being tapped out. The Yakima Valley is coming off a huge water year. The reservoirs are overfull. In fact some are several feet over full.
If a reservoir is one foot over filled, how much can that help? If the lake is 1000 acres on the surface, one foot of extra water will provide a full water right of three acre feet for 333 acres. A little more storage at the top of a lake can go a long way.
The truth is the Rattlesnake Hills AVA is not experiencing a drought at all. In fact rainfall is very slightly above normal, but as stated earlier, rain on the desert is immaterial. A few hundredth of an inch on five and one half inches just doesn't register. I still have to water my cactus garden!
Green grass between the rows
The Cascades which provide water for the Yakima Basin are somewhat short on precipitation, but nothing like California. In fact the Drought Severity Index published by NOAA says that our precipitation is near normal. SE Washington, including Walla Walla, is having a moist spell.
So why did Governor Jay declare a drought emergency? Maybe because he used to live in Selah or he just likes being governor and making declarations. You get your picture on TV!
The real problem is not the lack of precipitation as in California, it is the lack of storage. Five reservoirs serve the Yakima Basin Project. Those reservoirs are full to the brim and overflowing. The problem lies with what we call the sixth reservoir - snowpack. Due to the mild winter, there is no snow in the Cascades! Normally the snowpack serves the irrigation needs into June at which time we start to tap the reservoirs. This year the reservoirs will be tapped early and tapped out by season's end.
Back to the drought in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA. The western and southern portions of the AVA are served by senior water rights. That means they get three acre feet of water or 100% before junior water rights get a drop. No drought there. Junior water rights like the Roza Irrigation District are scheduled to get 73% this year - not bad for vineyards which typically only need 50% of their allocation. North of the Roza ,the AVA gets its water from wells and unlike California, the wells are not going dry, yet.
With the drought declaration, I can tap into my emergency well which has more water than my Roza water right and water transfers are allowed.
I think the Rattlesnake Hills AVA will get along just fine this year so we can supply California with much-needed high-quality grapes.
Next year, as the skiers say, "THINK SNOW!'

Thursday, February 19, 2015

If We Are Going to Tell the Story, Let's Tell the Whole Story



 The 2015 Washington State Wine Tour Guide just came out. The lead article is Fire and Ice by Julie H. Case. Why is this article important? Well, a lot of other writers will look at it for content and copy it. I found it a little confusing but other than that it seems accurate. It is written in a style that is meant to be exciting (not instructive) which makes it a little hard to follow.
First off, the picture they chose is of Mt. Hood in Oregon. Although the picture was taken in Washington, all the land shown is in Oregon. A picture of Mt. Adams in Washington from the Rattlesnake Hills AVA would be more appropriate.
In the fine print, the story is essentially correct. But I quote, "Vines scatter across a basalt cliff formed by ancient volcanoes." When one thinks of volcanoes, the picture of the beautiful stratovolcanoes of the Cascade Range comes to mind; one of which is Mt. Hood along with Mt. Adams. The other type of volcano is  the shield volcano, like Mauna Loa in Hawaii. Ancient volcanoes consist of remnant cores like Morro Rock in California. None of this will be found in the Columbia Plateau. Shortly after the eruptions, the land was perfectly flat. It wasn't until California started pushing northward into the "perfect climate for wine" did the wrinkling occur. I assume with global warming California will continue to push northward - in more ways than one.
The whole story is even more interesting. The type of volcanism that created the basalt cliffs of Eastern Washington no longer exists in the world, that is at this time anyway. Fortunately for humankind there are no active examples because.......
The source of the lava was giant fissures in the earth, not the cones or mountains we call volcanoes. These fissures were more than 100 miles long is places, unlike a volcano that has a single vent. The lava that flowed from these fissures was unique in that it was very fluid and able to travel at great speeds and cover great distances before cooling. It is estimated that this lava travelled at a speed of three miles per hour covering distances of over 375 miles from central Idaho to the Pacific Ocean before solidifying.
The quantity of lava extruded from them was also amazing. Geologists say that enough lava was released from the Grande Ronde Basalt flow to cover the entire United States in twelve feet of lava.
Luckily, according to the Humane Society, no dinosaurs were harmed during this event. You see the dinosaurs were gone 66 million years ago and the majority of the lava flows occurred only 17 to 15.5 million years ago. Considering the Earth is 4.54 billion years or 6000 years old, depending on the story you believe, either way, the Columbia Plateau is a relatively recent event.
Not included in the article are the wines grown on the ancient cobbles of the Yakima River (called the Ellensburg formation) found in the Rattlesnake Hills above 1100 feet. These wines have a unique minerality and complexity with a lack of herbaceous notes not found elsewhere in the state. With the same warmth as the Horse Heaven Hills it is the perfect site for Bordeaux-style reds. Unfortunately these unique wines are hard to identify, since many examples are labeled as generic Yakima Valley and can't be distinguished from wines grown on Warden soils. Two good examples of wines grown on the ancient cobbles are Portteus Vineyards' Cabernet Sauvignon and Bonair Winery's Morrison Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Let’s Go Swimming or Can All That Wine Be Sold?

     A long time ago a friend asked me if I wanted to buy some incredibly expensive Red Mountain Merlot for $18 per gallon. I told him (back then) I couldn’t get $18 per bottle for the wine. He immediately questioned my math, but the math holds as true today as it did back then.
As with most ‘rules of thumb’ there are distortions at both ends. Packaging costs remain fixed as only the price of wine changes. Of course, on a wine you paid $40 per gallon, you may want to up your packaging costs by buying Parker-approved three-pound bottles and two-inch corks and on the low end, if you are a large bulk producer, you can probably get better prices on container loads of Chinese glass and cheap agglomerated corks.
This chart should make it as clear the rain in the Tri-cities.
$/gal. bulk
$10.00
$20.00
$30.00
corks
$0.11
$0.40
$0.80
foils
$0.08
$0.08
$0.12
bottles
$0.60
$1.00
$2.00
labels
$0.40
$0.40
$0.40
Wine per bottle
$2.00
$4.00
$6.00
tax
$0.20
$0.20
$0.20
cost to winery
$3.39
$6.08
$9.52
sell wholesale
$6.78
$12.16
$19.04
 shelf price
$9.70
$17.39
$27.23
I was perusing the bulk wine/shiners for sale on the Wine Business Monthly web site. The most expensive wine I could find was for sale at the asking price of $40 per gallon. That must be some phenomenal shit! The least expensive was only $2.16 per gallon. Can you say oxidized? Sure you can. I like the way you say oxidized.  Most wines ranged from $5 to $15 per gallon.
At this time there are over 365,000 gallons of bulk wine for sale in the state of Washington. We could sell it to California to fill their swimming pools during the drought, but there is even more wine for sale in California, so they can fill their own swimming pools.
Riesling seems to be the biggest drag on the market with over 146,000 gallons sitting in tanks. The average price is $9.88 per gallon, but some dreamer wants $25 for his.
Chardonnay is number two with over 102,000 gallons on the market at an average price of $12.00, but a lot can be had for only $7.00.
Cabernet Sauvignon seems to be in balanced supply. There are only 7,743 gallons available at an average price of $20.17 per gallon. One guy thinks his is worth $28.00 per gallon.
You might want to pick up some good Merlot for $17 per gallon. There are 33,649 gallons available.
I’m sure glad I don’t have to sell bulk wine this year! Small, high-quality crop and it’s all spoken for.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Here we go again or Not Another Wine Village





This is crazy. Anyone dumb enough to invest in this deserves to lose their money. The tasting room boom is over. Get it, OVER. It was over in 2008. With over 800 tasting rooms in the state, the crowd has been diluted to a trickle. People are burned out on high prices, tasting fees, and snobby tasting rooms. Wine is cheaper at Total Wine and tasting is free.

First of all, to get to the raceway (from Seattle), you have to pass the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail. Prosser's Vintners Village, Prosser's strip-mall wineries, and Red Mountain. If you get that far, you are within striking distance of Walla Walla Walla. Just keep going going going.

Let's look at the Prosser's Vintners' Village, affectionately known as the 'Park and Drink.' We know sadly that Olsen Estates is gone and the building is available. Of the seven spots in the Wine Loft (a very cool idea), at least two spots are available, maybe three, I haven't been there for a while.

People, not in the industry, have the idea that this is the goose that laid the golden egg -- and then keeps on laying. Obviously, these people are not regular visitors to wine tasting rooms. Get over it. Woodinville has a corner on strip-mall/warehouse tasting rooms. Throw in Ste. Mickey's and Columbia and you can't compete.

Oh, and if that isn't enough, Plans Moving Forward for Downtown Kennewick's Wine Village. Wow, a competing wine village in beautiful downtown Kennewick (wherever that is). It just doesn't get any better. Their big concern is 'a water treatment plant which is necessary before any wineries would be able to move in.' Think about that. The big concern is waste water treatment - not the lack of wineries dumb enough to move in or the paucity of visitors to go there. Pardon me, but these people have shit for brains.

One of these crazy plots was explored in Yakima many years ago. Fortunately, it died without anyone turning a shovel of dirt. A promoter in Zillah tried to build one. (He didn't taste or buy any wine at my winery, so I knew he was full of shit.)

My idea for these folks? A pot village modeled after Amsterdam where you can walk from shop to shop and sample weed. Now that's an idea that will bring them in. It might even get a wine writer or two.