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Joy Sterling
 
September 2, 2016 | Joy Sterling

On the Waterfront: In Case You Haven’t Heard, California Is Still In a Drought

 
El Niño was a big help to our long term water woes, but not the savior many had hoped (read our blog’s past predictions for the Great Wet Hope here). Winter storms brought normal snowpack in the Sierra, but once the flurries stopped and the seasons changed, melt-off from the high country proved swift and disappointing.
 
The Department of Water Resources projects that the mountains produced about three quarters of normal runoff during the months of heaviest snowmelt. This shorts the rivers and reservoirs that typically provide a third of California’s water, cementing a fifth year of historic drought for the Golden State (news coverage here). Now the Governor has used his executive powers to enact permanent measures, acknowledging that water conservation has to become a way of life.
 
 
“Permanent” turns out to be through January 17 when the state Water Resources Control Board can revise the regulations. For the next five months we are off mandatory water use management and onto voluntary cutbacks.
 
Instead of a statewide decree, cities and towns are now allowed to manage their individual conservation efforts. This measure acknowledges the obvious - that water, like every resource, is not naturally equally distributed statewide.
 
Back in 2015, the Governor mandated a 25% reduction in water use compared with a baseline of 2013, with the 411 water districts reporting monthly (full story from the Sacramento Bee here).
 
Post-El Nino, California officials feel we can afford a break in certain parts of the state, especially in the North. It has now been determined that we can ease off draconian, one size fits all measures. Local communities are empowered to decide their own conservation needs based on a three year stress test. Monthly reporting remains honoring a motto of “Trust, but verify.”
 
Map of Official Monitoring Stations in the Delta region
 
In the first month on this “honor system,” the state averaged 23% reduction. July’s numbers will be released soon, concrete evidence of continued commitment to voluntary water frugality.
 
As an active observer of California Water Policy, I can’t imagine anyone thought El Nino would provide a panacea for drought. Complete recovery requires several more years of “average” rainfall but it definitely was a boon here in Sonoma where soils were saturated and reservoirs refilled.
 
Long term, the Governor is right to plan for perpetual drought, which experts says is a very real possibility. Some anticipate a time when water may become more valuable than land, positing that land without water won’t be worth much. Shocking.
 
Theories like these are motivating significant action on a large scale. In an extremely controversial move, Southern California’s powerful Metropolitan Water District recently purchased 20,000 acres, scattered across five agricultural islands in the North’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
 
 
 
Shown above, the area is called the “Delta” because it forms a triangle of roughly 1,000 miles of waterways from Antioch to Sacramento to Stockton and is the hub of California’s water delivery network. Metropolitan says they were interested in purchasing the islands so they could restore natural wetlands habitat for plants and wildlife. Such restoration projects are required of water districts to offset the effects of their reservoirs, dams and canals. Two of the islands are in the path of Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to build two tunnels underneath the Delta. And owning the islands also grants Metropolitan senior rights to pump water out of the Delta.
 
Critics say the purchase was an old fashioned water grab. It was challenged in court, but allowed to go through (coverage here and more here).
 
This story is not without a happy update: Stanford researchers have detected a potential new water source in the Central Valley. Perhaps as much as three times more groundwater than previous estimates.
 
Previous studies only looked at depths of up to 1,000ft (300m). This one went deeper - and investigations show there’s three times as much fresh water at 1,000–3,000ft (300–900m) below ground.
 
But the potential “windfall” comes with caveats. It is very deep thus prohibitively expensive to extract and could be salty. Drilling for it could lead to further land subsidence, already a major problem. And much of these hitherto unknown water sources happen to be close to oil and gas wells, which puts them at risk of being contaminated.
 
Shut-down desalinization plant in Marina, Cali image via NewsDeeply.com
 
The Central Valley is home to California’s most productive farm belt, but the region’s groundwater is so severely overdrafted that in some places that the land has been sinking two inches a month. Problems with subsidence started decades ago, but have been made worse by the current drought. With surface water so scarce, one study shows we are currently pumping water out of the ground at twice the rate that the aquifers can naturally recharge. At this rate, pulling more water out of the ground wouldn’t help.
 
The scientists are not advocating the use of this new-found source … at least not just yet. As the old saying goes, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”
 
It'll take a while to figure out how to tap those very deep aquifers … and how to replenish them. In the meantime, we need to approach this new source with caution. Premature efforts could pollute the precious water AND inadvertently poke the “sleeping bear” - a term my friend and fellow water policy wonk Phil Grosse uses to describe the network of fault lines underlying the state. But this is California, where imagination and ingenuity are two of our greatest resources in overcoming technical difficulties and ultimately sway public policy.
 
In a press release on this topic, the Stanford scientists were cautiously optimistic despite the proximity of the groundwater to a potentially hazardous oil and gas operation. But they noted that the contamination risks are great enough that we should be paying attention. We might need to use this water in a decade, so it's definitely worth protecting. Find further reading on this important finding here and here.
 
I believe science will move us forward in the long run and I remain hopeful that technology will yield a sustainable solution. But for now, I’m relying on good old fashioned conservation. My wish list includes more normal rainfall, ideally from Thanksgiving through February and preferably at night, like Camelot.

 

Last day of harvest 2016 for Sparkling at Iron Horse. Photo: Laurence Sterling

 

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Time Posted: Sep 2, 2016 at 6:47 AM
Joy Sterling
 
January 4, 2016 | Joy Sterling

Checking the Rain Gauge

We were dreaming of a green Christmas this year and we got it. Thank you Santa! A near average amount of rain, bringing the hills back to life. 

Even more importantly, we have snowpack to the Sierras.

The Sierra Nevada Snowpack currently stands at 105% of normal - the first time above average since 2012.

This is a remarkable milestone in a state where snow was virtually absent even at the highest elevations well into February last winter, and has been consistently far below average for four consecutive years. The early season storms in NorCal have been cold ones, creating a very healthy accumulation of snow across even in the middle elevation.

Think back to April 1 when Jerry Brown at Echo Summit in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, walking across dry grass, announced the first ever mandatory water cutbacks of 25%. The Governors of California have trekked to that spot for 65 years and this was the first time there was no snow.

Snowpack contributes about 30 percent of California's water supply. This season’s first measurement was last Wednesday, December 30. The next will be April 1. 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we recorded about seven inches of rain in December. The hills have greened-up. There’s water running down the creek.

We actually had flooding for two days, closing off the main entrance to the winery. All visitors, tasters, workers, the office, tasting room team, FedEx trucks had to go around the back way – a solid 30 minute detour, two days before Christmas. It was hard not to complain. We need the water. And it is amazing how many intrepid tasters there are.

The week leading up to New Year’s was old and dry with blue skies, puffy grey clouds and sometimes rainbows in our view. 

We started pruning mid-month. We are pruning as if the drought will continue, deciding to err of the side of caution, though it means lowering our sights again in terms of crop sisze.  The vineyard teams were given golf pencils with instructions that only shoots bigger than the pencil could be pruned down to two buds (meaning two shoots per position), anything smaller, would be pruned to one bud.  

We are hoping for nice, steady, but not overwhelming rain in January. More specifically, we’d like for the storms to unfold with ideally a two-day lull between each one to allow the water to seep into the ground and not just rush off down the creek to the Ocean, please.

Wish for a good El Nino!

Time Posted: Jan 4, 2016 at 8:45 AM
Joy Sterling
 
October 14, 2015 | Joy Sterling

Celebrating California's New (Water) Year & Waiting for El Niño

Always up for a celebration, I was very excited to learn that October 1st is the official start of the New Water Year in California. This should be greeted with popping corks and renewed optimism. First because we made it through Water Year 2015 … and second because we might just luck out with El Niño, now being ballyhooed as our “great wet hope.” As I follow local coverage of rising El Niño fever (here) I encourage you to read along with me and ultimately draft your own personal New Water Year Resolution #MyNewWaterYearResolution
 
As a friend and neighbor says, “Here we are, enjoying Indian summer and praying for a rip-roaring El Niño to clobber us this winter. How California, to hope for a disaster to end a catastrophe!”
 
Photo via @Claudio Chea

 
Water Year 2015 has been noteworthy for several reasons:
  • Far less precipitation than normal in California
  • Temperatures far warmer than normal
  • A strengthening El Niño in the equatorial Pacific that some scientists believe is now “too big to fail.” Find the scientific facts in last week’s LA Times coverage here.
 
In a revised forecast released last Thursday, the National Weather Service said Northern California stands a decent chance of getting significant precipitation this winter. WeatherWest.com data points to this conclusion as well. In fact, they explain that the present track is comparable in magnitude to both the 1982-1983 and 1997-1998 events which were the strongest in the long-term record.
 
 
While forecasters have been saying this winter will likely bring heavy rains to Southern California, which is typical for El Niño, they’ve been less certain about the outlook for the northern half of the state. This is insight we desperately need. The state’s major reservoirs are in the north, making rain and snow in that region of utmost importance to significantly bolster the state’s water supplies.
 
The bulk of the precipitation is predicted to fall in December but mainly during the traditional rainy season from January - March. Luckily, Winter Is Coming.

 
William Patzert, a climate expert at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, is the most optimistic and outspoken about the northern rain exposure. He’s convinced El Niño will be felt in Northern California. “At this point – at this particular time – this is too large to fail,” he said.
 
If history is a guide, California will see big snow in the northern mountains along with rain in the south, Patzert said. “The last two El Niños that were of this magnitude hosed all of California,” he said. “If you look at the snowpack for those two El Niños, you had double the snowpack, too.”
 
What’s changed since the weather service’s previous forecasts? Temperature anomalies in the Pacific are increasingly favorable to Northern California’s rain outlook and according to Jeffrey Mount, a water specialist at the Public Policy Institute of California, the so-called “ridiculously resilient ridge,” the high-pressure system that has kept rain and snow from falling on California, is finally breaking down.
 
 
Also check out this extremely cool NOAA video animation showing their weekly temperature readings of El Nino.
 
But Mount and Jay Lund, an engineer and watershed specialist at UC Davis, want to manage expectations. The experts point to the relative rarity of strong El Niños – just six since 1957. Their main point? We could still be left disappointed.
 
“We have a small sample size,” Lund said. “There’s still a substantial probability that we’re going to continue to be in a drought next year.”
 
So this is no time to become over confident. We must remain committed to conservation.
 
Here in Sonoma County, I am very proud to say the vintners have stepped up with voluntary measures to save water and help protect the Coho salmon. The Press Democrat quoted state regulators who showered Sonoma County landowners with praise. Read about the creative efforts and resulting hope for the future here.
 
Statewide, we Californians continue meeting the Governor’s water conservation mandate. We reduced water use by nearly 27 percent during August, exceeding Jerry Brown’s 25 percent conservation mandate for a third straight month.
 
Now we need everybody to make a New Water Year Resolution! My suggestion is that you resolve to capture and store as much rain possible. Whether it be in a reservoir, cistern or water barrels sold at the hardware store. Tip - old wine barrels actually work very well for this purpose. Share your resolutions with our us in the comments or on social media with the #MyNewWaterYearResolution
 
Hopefully, we will look back on Water Year 2015 as the final year of one of the state’s most severe dry periods on record. And may 2016 be the year we “win” the drought (see NY Times’ “How California Is Winning the Drought” here).
 
Many cultures mark the New Year on different dates and with special rituals. There’s Chinese New Year in January-February and Jewish New Year in September. The Ancient Egyptians timed their New Year to the flooding of the Nile in July. So, in some ways, October 1st can be seen as California’s New Year … appropriate as we tend to be a culture apart on most things.
 
And how to celebrate California New Year? With California bubbly, of course.
 
 
Cheers! Happy #winewednesday & Happy New Water Year!
 
 
 
***
Time Posted: Oct 14, 2015 at 9:47 AM
Joy Sterling
 
July 2, 2015 | Joy Sterling

The Drought Hits Home

With the start of summer, the drought has been hitting closer and closer to home … and then, suddenly, it is home. 
 
 
Wells are starting to go dry in nearby Forestville. Up until now, I have felt relatively secure that the North Bay (Marin, Sonoma, Napa) is experiencing nothing more than a “severe drought.” This classification is a level five on the seven levels of severity. Therefore, in a small way I have considered our vineyard as more fortunate when compared with other parts of the state, like Fresno, which is suffering “extraordinary drought.”
 
Since I last blogged on this topic, the State Water Resouces Control Board approved an emergency regulation aimed at protecting the threatened Coho Salmon and Steelhead. Ordinances affect about 13,000 properties in the watersheds of Dutch Bill Creek, Green Valley Creek, which bisects Iron Horse, Mark West Creek and Mill Creek. Water users in these watersheds, i.e. us, will be subject to: 1) enhanced conservation measures built on existing statewide water restrictions 2) regular submission of reports detailing surface and groundwater use. (Note: Below is a photo of our creek from May 2013. It shows water … today it is just muddy.)
 
 
The center of this issue goes beyond the mandatory reporting of diversions, focusing on the very definition of a diversion.  According to a draft of the emergency regulation:
  • Diversions” means all water diverted or pumped from surface waters or from subsurface waters that are hydraulically connected to the surface stream within the 
watersheds.
  • All subsurface water is considered hydraulically connected to the surface stream if 
pumping that water may contribute to a reduction in stream stage or flow of any 
surface stream within the watersheds.
 
For the first time ever we will monitor and report on our groundwater use, filing what we have diverted with the State Water Boards.
 
Really this just means more paperwork. Historically, we only divert water from the creek when the water level is high enough for the health of the fish. Our Iron Horse family has been working with Fish & Wildlife officials since last November to remove any barriers preventing fish from commuting up and down stream.  To support our joint efforts, we have significantly reduced our diversions.  In 2013 we pumped 8 acre/feet, in 2014 just 2.75, and in 2015, none … so as not to endanger the hatchlings seeded by Fish & Wildlife.  We love the salmon and do everything we can to help them navigate Green Valley Creek.
 
This makes us more reliant on the fruits of our conservation efforts including recycled water and winery grey water which goes to the reservoir for the vineyards, gardens and landscaping.  This reservoir is just about full - re-charged by advanced treated water from Forestville. We are installing meters on our wells and our houses. We are mowing more frequently in the vineyards to preserve the cover crop and keep it from competing with the vines. We pruned and have been thinning shoots to reduce water needs of the vines. (Below - a picture of the vegetable garden, irrigated with advanced treated water.)
 
 
Good news is that at least in May, we celebrated residential water use wins as shared in the Los Angeles Times. Urban areas reported a 29% drop in usage which is the biggest monthly decline yet since Gov. Jerry Brown ordered mandatory cuts. But officials caution that these efforts will have to ramp up as the warmer months become more exaggerated, we need six consistent months of similar water use declines to see serious impact.  
 
As experts admit, overall water usage this summer is anyone's guess and is largely dependent on the heat.  Every drop counts - a philosophy that has been embraced by everyone at Iron Horse. In fact, my brother is growing a “drought beard” to proactively “repurpose” water normally used  while shaving.
 
As for our beloved California salmon
 
We spend a good part of the year waiting for summer, which heralds the return of wild king salmon, considered by many to be Sonoma’s “National Dish”.
 
 
State and federal wildlife agencies have been transporting the new generation of baby fish via tanker truck to San Francisco Bay. Due to the drought, rivers and streams have become too shallow or too warm for salmon to navigate and survive the journey to the Pacific.
 
The salmon transport has been in progress since February, with 35,000 gallon tanker trucks being used to transport salmon along the 90 minute journey from hatcheries to the ocean via the freeway to bypass dried-up riverbeds.
 
In the next few years, we will start to see the effect of the drought on fish in the ocean. Warmer water makes the fish harder to catch because they’re not concentrated in their normal areas.  And we don’t yet know how many fish have reproduced in the rivers and creeks … and how many will make it back.
 
The Salmon’s Life Cycle:
 
The fish swim up the river and spawn, those baby salmon grow into smolts and work their way down to the ocean within a year or two. They spend five or six years in the ocean, and then they go back up the river they were born in to spawn again and die. If there’s no water, they can’t swim downstream to the ocean or back upstream to reproduce. We’re affected by the water conditions from five or six years ago. So we’ll see the effects of the drought in the next few years.
 
Nutritional Value:
 
California wild and natural King Salmon is considered by many to be the finest member of the salmon family and extremely nutritious. “Fast” food facts:
  • less than 200 calories per 3-ounce portion
  • excellent source of quality protein (21 grams, 47% of the Recommended Daily Intake)
  • low in saturated fat and sodium
  • rich in vitamins and minerals
  • ocean-run California King salmon is also very rich in omega-3 fatty acids
 
Versatility:

 

Salmon can be grilled, baked, broiled, poached, microwaved, sautéed, smoked, canned, or eaten raw in sushi and as sashimi. It can be prepared with any of your favorite seasonings or marinades: simple or exotic, homemade or store-bought. Don’t think of it as only an entree; it can also be featured in chowders and soups, pastas, appetizers, salads and sandwiches.  And most importantly, it pairs beautifully with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and bubbly!

 

 
Iron Horse Favorite Recipe: Whole Roasted Salmon in a Crust of Sea Salt

 

Ingredients:

1-8Lb. Salmon, gutted, scaled and trimmed
salt and pepper
1 bunch fresh thyme
several fresh bay leaves
6 Lb. sea salt
extra virgin olive oil
zest of 4 lemons, finely chopped
Serves: 8 people
 
Directions:

 

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Wash fish thoroughly, inside and out, and pat dry. Season the cavity of the fish with salt and pepper, the thyme and bay leaves.
Spread half the sea salt on the bottom of a large baking dish or half sheet tray. Place the fish and completely cover it from head to tail with the remaining salt. Put in the oven and bake 10 minutes per pound.
Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes. Brush away as much salt as possible from the fish. Then, using a sharp knife, gently remove and discard skin. With a thin spatula, remove the filets from along the backbone, place on a serving platter and drizzle with olive oil and lemon zest.
Serve with Iron Horse 2013 Chardonnay, 2012 Pinot Noir and/or 2011 Summer’s Cuvee

 

 
######

 

Time Posted: Jul 2, 2015 at 3:05 PM
Joy Sterling
 
June 8, 2015 | Joy Sterling

A Sip of Hope - Celebrate World Oceans Day with Iron Horse + National Geographic

Surfs up!
 
Here at Iron Horse we strive to catch every wave and today happens to be World Oceans Day - celebrated every June 8 across our blue planet. Now officially recognized by the United Nations, the date was originally proposed in 1992 by Canada at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

 

Water has been a big topic for us this year. So it should come as no surprise that we are passionate about our ocean - the "heart" of our world. It connects us, regulates the climate, feeds millions of people, produces oxygen, is home to an incredible array of wildlife, provides important medicines, facilitates trade, and is so very beautiful. It’s imperative that we assume the responsibility to care for the ocean as it cares for us.
 
There are many ways to show some ocean love:
  • Cut back on using disposable plastic bags
  • Enter the UN’s photo contest
  • Go to the aquarium
  • Wear blue
  • Get involved in a community beach clean up
  • If you are lucky enough to be near the water, dive in
  • Just tweeting about the day spreads the word and gets people interested
  • Be mindful about your food choices. Educate yourself about sustainable seafood choices starting with this piece from Chef Barton Seaver here
  • Leverage the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch - a great resource
For the past five years, we’ve gone one step further to merge the oceans we love with what we do best. We will be toasting with our special 2010 Ocean Reserve Blanc de Blancs, which we produce in partnership with National Geographic.

 

$4 per bottle goes to NatGeo's Ocean Initiative, helping establish Marine Protected Areas and support sustainable fishing around the globe. It is a great source of pride that our contribution comes to about $220,000 in five years ... and counting.

 
The first vintage was welcomed with the inspirational Barton Seaver. As explained in this 2010 article here, the National Geographic fellow came to taste with us.  

 

In one video, Barton elaborates on the nearby ocean’s impact on Iron Horse "meroire"… he also conveniently presents a grill-friendly pairing recipe where sustainably farmed seafood appropriately takes center stage. The must-watch video is here.

 

Barton was an ideal partner in the creation of this cuvee and his words on the topic encapsulate the larger mission of our efforts perfectly:

 

"The oceans are in all of us and are in all that we hold dear. The wine with which we celebrate World Oceans Day was in fact grown in deposits of ancient marine life, the juice of the grapes itself a product of our oceans and a testament to the power of the oceans to sustain our reality."

In fact, Barton believes how we eat and drink is the first step towards environmental responsibility. He has been known to explain, “Deliciousness is the first line of environmentalism.” And of course the ocean plays a major role in our signature Iron Horse winemaking. The nearby Pacific (only 13 miles as the crow flies) is the driver of our special microclimate that allows us to make unparalleled Sparkling Wine with bright acidity and brilliant aromas.

 

Today, take a moment to meditate on the ocean’s role in everyday life.

 

 

Ocean Day Fast Facts:
  • Oceans cover three quarters of the Earth’s surface, contain 97% of the Earth’s water, and represent 99% of the living space on the planet by volume
  • Over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods
  • Globally, the market value of marine and coastal resources and industries is estimated at $3 trillion per year or about 5% of global GDP
  • Oceans contain nearly 200,000 identified species, but actual numbers may lie in the millions
  • Oceans absorb about 30% of carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming
  • Oceans serve as the world’s largest source of protein, with more than 2.6 billion people depending on the oceans as their primary source of protein
  • Marine fisheries directly or indirectly employ over 200 million people
  • As much as 40% of the world oceans are heavily affected by human activities - pollution, depleted fisheries, and loss of coastal habitats
 
As you digest these bubbly fast facts do what Mother Nature would want….  pair them with a special bottle of bubbles. Each sip of 2010 Oceans Reserve Blanc de Blanc is made even more wonderful with the knowledge that you’re donating to a beautiful blue cause.

 

 
Resources:
 
World Oceans Day Organization here
 
Q&A with National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala here
 
Bio of Barton Seaver, chef, author and National Geographic Fellow here
 
The National Geographic webpage dedicated to our Ocean Reserve Sparkling here
 
Iron Horse being served this week at National Geographic’s Explorers Symposium in Washington, DC. Event details here
Time Posted: Jun 8, 2015 at 8:27 AM
Joy Sterling
 
May 20, 2015 | Joy Sterling

Wells Gone Dry in California

“You never miss the water till the well has run dry.” Irish Proverb
 
1,900 wells have gone dry in California as we dive further into a four year drought. That’s about 1% of the state’s wells, with the greatest concentration in the Fresno area. Groundwater levels continue dropping, in some places as much as 10 feet. For the first time in nearly a century, farmers who normally receive canal water from the Fresno Irrigation District will get no regular deliveries. As one Fresno Irrigation District farmer conceded in the Fresno Bee, “You can’t release water you don’t have.”

 

Mark Crosse Fresno Bee

 

Essentially - water will be flowing in the canals but will NOT be available for on-farm use.  A shocking image. Law abiding farmers wishing to avoid fines will have to turn on their pump and pray for sufficient groundwater to make it through the season.
 
The water that is available has been repurposed - tasked with recharging underground aquifers and directed to surface water treatment plants.
 
As a member of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture, appointed by the Governor, I attended a public forum on the drought last week in Fresno.
 
The event’s big takeaway: mandatory restrictions will become a way of life.

 

(pictured above - Marin Hills turning gold prematurely - a phenomenon we usually see in August)
 
Here’s a snapshot of information shared by government officials:
 
  • California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency Secretary Anna Caballero estimated 4,000 residents don’t have access to water because wells have run dry. She said, "It's obviously a health crisis and we want to make sure we're doing everything we can to provide resources to be able to avoid that." (Source)
  • Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, provided updates on the government’s drought relief and conservation plans, water efficiency programs and increased funding for research and development of new technology. (Source)
  • Ghilarducci hinted that further cuts may become necessary  if it doesn’t look like people are saving enough to meet the state’s targets. Governor Jerry Brown’s April executive order requires an across-the-board 25 percent reduction in the state’s water use by February 2016. (Source)
I had expected fights to break out at the meeting. My first hope was that everyone would be asked to park their guns at the door. Instead, we heard mainly sad stories:
 
  • One rural homeowner spoke of groundwater concerns, saying: 
"The water table dropped two feet a year for 70 years and right now it's dropping at eight feet a year." He dug a new well that goes down 400 feet and figures he is OK for the time being. But realizes many others won’t be.
There was a shared and vocal concern about the blame being heaped on agriculture.
 
  • An almond grower called the criticism “hyperbolic attacks.”
 
  • CDFA Board President Craig McNamara, a walnut grower,  posted on the CDFA’s “Planting Seeds” blog:
“Those holding that point of view may believe that farmers and ranchers consume more than their fair share of water. While it’s easy to cast blame, let’s not forget that irrigation wells have gone dry, lifelong investments are dying in the fields and serious financial burdens are hanging overhead.”
 
  • Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross wrote an OpEd piece in the Modesto Bee asking: What happens to Ag water? Eventually people eat and drink it. (Source) The piece opens up with this statement:
“A recent survey by the Farm Water Coalition indicated that 41 percent of California’s irrigated farmland will lose 80 percent of its surface water in 2015 due to cutbacks because of the drought. Add that to a reduction of more than 30 percent last year and it’s obvious that farmers and ranchers have suffered the brunt of drought-related losses, so far.”

 

As the crisis continues to evolve, expand and worsen in dangerous new ways, all Californians need to become involved in the drought conversation. Acreage, livelihoods, health, and  the environment are being threatened.   

Our next Board meeting is Tuesday June 2 at CDFA headquarters in Sacramento, beginning at 10am with participation from New York Times Columnist Mark Bittman as well as representatives from Mother Jones, Grist and Gizmodo. As always, it is open to the public for comment.

 

 

 

Time Posted: May 20, 2015 at 1:08 PM
Joy Sterling
 
May 7, 2015 | Joy Sterling

The End of California?

A horrifying headline.
 
The End of California?”
 
And a must read. I actually found the Op Ed in last Sunday’s NY Times to be very balanced…. its concluding paragraph espousing everything I believe.
 
“The drought may indeed be a long overdue bill for creating an oasis civilization. But therein lies a solution. The Golden State is an invention, with lives to match. If the drought continues, California will be forced to rely even more on what has long sustained it — imagination. Not a bad thing to have too much of.”
 
Imagination and innovation -- these are the precious resources which have historically made California rich and famous. I wholeheartedly believe they are the attributes which will ultimately resolve the drought crisis.

 

 
Just last month, California launched a push to stimulate aggressive drought fighting innovation. A spokesman for the California Energy Commission says the program will begin this summer.  
 
In a demonstration of the fact that necessity is truly the mother of invention, innovators are working on disruptive technologies to optimize Mother Earth’s gifts.
 
Among them:
 
1) water conveyance systems
2) desalination
3) on-site water reuse
4) high tech approaches to more efficient water use in agriculture.  
 
The governor unveiled the latest version of his proposal to build two underground tunnels at 40 feet wide and 35 miles long in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
 

 
A French engineering and construction firm has proposed a flexible undersea pipeline.
 
Pro: This would carry water from two NorCal rivers to cities down the coast, addressing dire need
Con: Sky-high construction costs tabled this project in 1975 when originally considered
 
Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors is sparking a renewable power revolution by translating their famed car technology for the residential/commercial market. He’s seeking to slash the current water demands for power generation with battery packs linked to a solar power system.
 
Pro: Musk asserts that his water saving batteries will play an important role in ending fossil fuel dependence and global warming trends. Tesla stationary energy storage systems are already in beta testing in residential/commercial/winery environments
Con: Like the car, this Tesla technology is not cheap and infrastructural changes required to make the technology go mainstream are daunting
 
 
A few more exciting prospects I’m keeping my eye on....
 
1) USA: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers have developed a new capacitive desalination technique. The project could ultimately lower the cost & time of desalinating seawater.  
 
2) AUSTRALIA: The country has constructed eight “desal” plants during their (perish the thought) 15 year drought.
 
3) ISRAEL: Scientists are currently running the world’s largest and cheapest reverse-osmosis desalination plant.
 
While scanning the globe for solutions and finding inspiration in the indomitable spirit of fellow Californians, my family and I leverage the natural gifts in our own backyard as we wait for necessity to provide. At our Iron Horse Vineyards, we use advanced treated water from the town of Forestville and recycled water from the winery to charge our reservoir for frost protection and irrigation.  
 
An unlikely hero is emerging in this arena -- earthworms. The efforts of the tiny organisms provide an organic solution to treating thousands of gallons of wastewater each day from wineries. Even the smallest among us will deserve praise when the history of our crisis is written.
 
What part will you play?
 

Last week’s Holy Water blog installment triggered community conversation on important related reading. I hope this week’s installment spurs conversation about the place of technology in this battle. I will continue to keep you updated as California drought coverage and state action plans develop.  Let’s keep this urgently needed conversation alive #EndofCalifornia

 

 

Time Posted: May 7, 2015 at 7:12 PM
Joy Sterling
 
April 29, 2015 | Joy Sterling

Holy Water

Holy Water is an essay written by Joan Didion in 1979.  In a sentence, it’s about being obsessed with water. A feeling we know too well these days.  Joan Didion for me is a quintessential California writer like Wallace Stegner,  John Steinbeck,  Jack London,  Mark Twain – the sole woman in the pantheon.

 

Mainly, look at how cool she is:

 

THEN

 

And NOW, as a model for the Céline ads in all the fashion magazines - Vogue, Elle, W, Harpers Bazaar

 

 

Her essay Holy Water is a great read … or re-read in this time of extreme drought.  I highly, highly recommend it.  If you have a moment, tweet me what you think using @IronHorseVyds, @joybubbles and #HolyWater.

 

As a member of the Food and Agriculture Board, I get a daily compilation of 20 or more links  to every news story, fact sheet, white paper and blog being written about water, drought, fish, almonds, desalination, cemetery water use, etc.  So far, my favorite is an interactive map that shows water use by water district.  It’s interesting to see the variation across the state.  Click here for the map from The New York Times.
 
Among friends, casual dinner table conversation frequently turns to personal water saving tips.  One friend, who lives in Belvedere, says she lines up buckets in the shower to catch what you would normally let go down the drain until the water gets warm.  Another, says his wife got him to put tall plastic trash cans all over their lawn to capture and store rainfall.  He now refers to this installation as yard art. “My wife might let the lawn go, but never the roses”, he says.

 

 

These tips bring to mind another must-read:  Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond by Brad Lancaster, in case you are considering building a cistern.

 

“Not many people I know carry their end of the conversation when I want to talk about water deliveries,” wrote Didion in 1979.  In 2015, just about everyone I know can hold their own on that topic!  We are acutely aware how water deliveries directly affect our personal lives. Back then, swimming pools were easy targets as symbols of excessive water use.  The war cry in the North was “we don’t want our water going to fill the swimming pools of Beverly Hills."

 

Today’s villains are the almond growers.  Everyone is shocked to learn that it takes a gallon of water to grow one almond … and that 90% of California almonds get exported. But it is too facile to point fingers. Here is an excellent article from The Guardian that provides a balanced view.  It presents the argument of an almond grower through exploring a case study.  The piece tracks a family-owned almond farm which began investing in water efficiency decades before it was "cool."  Sounds like a beautiful vineyard in Green Valley I know....

 

 
I am optimistic.

 

For one thing, the board I sit on is very active in advising the Governor.  A positive sign that our leadership is open to diverse and expert inputs. Number two, the state is facing the issue head on… as is every local agency.  Every asset, every resource is being thrown into the fight.  Everyone in a position to make a difference is working very hard and they are all very, very smart.

 

As the Governor said at our Celebrate Earth Day in Green Valley event, “Don’t worry about the drought. Just don’t use too much water.”

 

I will continue to keep you updated as California drought coverage and state action plans develop.  Let’s keep this urgently needed conversation alive #HolyWater

 

 

Time Posted: Apr 29, 2015 at 12:57 PM
Joy Sterling
 
April 20, 2015 | Joy Sterling

2015 Earth Day in Green Valley

Earth Day carries a lot of meaning for Iron Horse Vineyards and this year was is different. The global holiday marks an urgent call to arms in the conservation of the world around us. In this spirit, my Green Valley based family hosted honored guests in celebrating our love of the land. I was thrilled to introduce inspiring keynote speakers and friends; Gov. Jerry Brown and Kevin Jorgeson.

 

 
Kevin famously topped the Dawn Wall of El Capitan and subsequently toasted with Iron Horse bubbly. As a special celebration of the unprecedented 3,000 foot free-climb of climbing partners Kevin and Tommy Caldwell, we introduced our 2010 Summit Cuvée, a limited production, one time only, vintage brut which Jorgeson helped us finesse.
 
Surprising attendees with an impromptu conversation on the California drought, Gov. Jerry Brown ascended the podium and seized a moment to applaud California’s environmental leadership. He reassures residents the state will survive its historic four-year drought through creativity and unity. My favorite quote from the Governor's talk: Don't worry about the drought; just don't use too much water!

 

 
The day was a smashing success and it has triggered some soul searching. As we celebrate Earth Day in our roles as stewards of the environment, Kevin Jorgesen asks us: What’s OUR Dawn Wall? He never gave up on his dream of free-climbing El Capitan. My dream is for a united push towards great responsibility to the environment. The rewards of pushing through imagined limitations are endless.
 
….Because nothing compliments bubbles like a mountainous cake, we wrapped up the day by inviting Kevin Jorgeson to slice up a sweet replica of El Capitan after tracing his route on the “iced” terrain. Ain’t life sweet?

 

 
Find more information about participating colleagues who poured their own delicious Green Valley Chardonnays & Pinot Noirs during the event: Deloach Vineyards, Dutton-Goldfield Winery, Freeman Vineyard & Winery, Hartford Family Winery, Lynmar Estate, Marimar Estate, Macphail Family Wines, The Rubin Family of Wines

 

 
Find a fantastic recap of the day from Press Democrat here: http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/3812019-186/governor-urges-unity-in-drought

Get your limited edition 2010 Summit Cuvee here: http://bit.ly/1H9hVMf

 

Find an Earth Day event recap from one of our VIP guests, Adrienne from Rich Life on a Budget, here: http://bit.ly/1DBUdBb

 

Peruse another Earth Day recap from a friend of Iron Horse, Jo Diaz, who has honored me with the title of "Mother Nature in Disguise:" http://bit.ly/1DOILp5

 

Time Posted: Apr 20, 2015 at 1:11 PM
Joy Sterling
 
April 10, 2015 | Joy Sterling

The Cost of Water & Our Vineyard's Footprint

Everything costs water:
  • It takes about 30 – 35 gallons of water to make a glass of wine
  • 56 gallons for a latte to go
  • 400 gallons to grow the cotton for a T-shirt
  • 6230 gallons a week to maintain a 100’ x 100’ lawn
Think about the possible tradeoffs. According to one calculation, if you pulled out a thousand square feet of lawn, you could enjoy an additional three bottles of wine a week and come out even in your water footprint.
 
I have heard several friends complain that they can’t possibly cut back any more than they already have. City dwellers resent the farmers. Some farmers feel they are being pitted against the environmentalists. The fact is, we are all in this together. We each have to do our utmost.
 
Here is a snapshot of our water use – in the vineyards, the winery and our personal lives. Bear in mind, Iron Horse is our business and it is also our home. We have three generations living on the property (in three homes), plus two of our foremen in separate houses with their families.
 

 

 

We have five wells, which supply the houses and a 45-acre foot reservoir that my parents built when they purchased the vineyard in 1976. The reservoir is fed primarily by rainwater, Green Valley Creek (a tributary of the Russian River), and highly treated waste-water from nearby Forestville.

 

 

Our rights to Green Valley Creek are called “licensed” water rights. The main license goes back to 1975.  A smaller one goes back to 1948. These are limited rights.  We can take no more than 86 acre-feet during the season (November to June) at a rate of less than 5 cubic feet per second (cfs, or 2,245 gal/min), assuming there is enough water in the creek for both us and the fish.

 

It is a great source of pride that the Department of Fish and Wildlife has spotted Coho salmon in Green Valley Creek for the first time in 20 years.
 

 

The reservoir gets recharged with recycled water upon request. Our agreement is to take 20 acre feet, and have an option for 20 more.  Last year we received 30 plus acre feet; the year before about 12.
 
Frost protection and irrigation efforts are powered by the reservoir. These actions benefit 1) the vineyard 2) the orchard and flower garden at my parents’ house and 3) the summer vegetable garden behind my house.
 

 

The most significant water usage is associated with frost protection in the vineyard. Last year’s weather spared us from excessive water use, we activated the frost protection system only four times. One of the worst years was 2008 when ice was hanging from the vines.
 
We use conventional overhead sprinklers for vineyard frost protection. We can’t use wind machines like you see on flatland vineyards in Napa nor smudge pots like citrus growers because our property is a series of rolling hills.  Our proximity to the ocean makes us vulnerable to frost as late as June 1. The stakes are high for us; not frost protecting could expose us to losing a third of our crop.
 
Overhead sprinklers deliver water at a rate of roughly one-quarter to one-third of an inch per hour. So far this season, we have turned on the sprinklers four times - about 13 hours total.
 
In the winery, our major water usage is for 1) cleaning tanks, barrels, picking bins and the presses during harvest and 2) power washing the floors. We pride ourselves on maintaining an immaculate facility.  All of our grey water goes through the storm drains to the reservoir. We do not use detergents.
 
 
In our homes, even farmers take Navy showers.
 
Every vineyard’s water use varies, just like fine wine, with the climate, the soil and the lay of the land. I would rate our water use at 94 points on a 100 point scale. We can always do better.

 

The point is, we live in a watery world. It takes/costs water to do everything. An economist will tell you that if water was given its real monetary value, we wouldn’t have a problem. The market would even itself out naturally.

 

Except that water is a right, like air. The state has assigned relief funds for rural communities where the wells have gone dry. Food banks are gearing up for added demand in the summer as land is fallowed, resulting in job loss. In November 2014, California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross launched a campaign to raise 200 million pounds of food for food banks by the end of the year.
 
As with just about everything, I think we want/need to strike a balance.

 

For additional information on water and agriculture, I highly recommend the Public Policy Institute of California's "Water for Farms" briefing that just came out and that CDFA posted on their Planting Seeds blog. Their report provides accurate statistics and comes from a well-respected, non-partisan organization.  

 

Find the personal water footprint calculator from National Geographic here.

 

And consider this final water conservation tip – old wine barrels are great for harvesting rain water.