Iron Horse Blog
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.
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
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
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
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
Winemaking at Iron Horse is a passion and brimming with romance. It's a family effort spanning three generations. Winemaker David Munksgard (pictured below in his "mad scientist" lab) has been a part of the vineyard family for the past 20 years. He plays a leading role in determining the outcome of exceptional Iron Horse wines and bubbly.
I had the pleasure of touring the property with David one sunny afternoon in Green Valley. The first thing that sticks out is David’s emphasis on the importance of the “place.” After an ebullient hello and a pop of Wedding Cuvee to celebrate my recent marriage, he informed me that the Iron Horse estate has the most sought after land for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in all of California.
The unique conditions - cool nights and nearby ocean influences, make each of the exclusively estate bottled wines rich with the special flavors, specific to the vineyard and never the result of “recipe winemaking.” Don’t get him started on his “special sauce” or his tireless drive for balance, quality, and class in a bottle.
David starts out every day in a personal paradise. He arrives in the vineyards at 6AM and conducts a sunrise walk through. The winemaking process is about getting on an intimate level with the grapes from beginning of their life cycle ‘til the wine is corked and “laid down” to age. David even admits to whispering motivational words to grapes. And when he returns to his "desk" -- this delicious view below awaits him....
His efforts are grounded in the superior vineyard farming style implemented by Partner and Director of Operations Laurence Sterling. The vineyard has been slowly replanted over the past eight years by 10-15 acre increments. In certain blocks, the row direction was changed to get the most even sunlight with computer generated simulations guiding the proper orientation.
Laurence’s responsible farming has had ripple effects beyond superb wine, even the creek which cuts across the property has begun spawning salmon again. I’m not surprised to see this commitment to doing what’s right pop up again and again. As a keen Iron Horse observer, this pervades all decision making, regardless of just how challenging it might be.
David’s roots are on the East Coast, where European wine is the template. Burgundian wines and French style sparklings are his jumping off point - a style that matches the Sterlings’ love of French tastes/culture based on their history as past French residents! The combined French influence is evident in Iron Horse wines, especially as they age. Flavors also originate from the site and from his deep understanding of his audience - the Iron Horse fans. He works with team members in blind tastings and solicits consumer feedback from visitors at the tasting room to facilitate consistent improvement and innovation.
To better understand the sparkling winemaking process, David walked me through pivotal points which illuminated the intense work, oversight, time and patience required:
Step 1: August is dedicated to hand picking pinot noir for sparkling, followed by chardonnay. Each vineyard block is kept separate until blending time.
Step 2: Fermentation.
Step 3: In February, David starts assessing blend options. He plays with the blends based on smell, visuals, and of course tastes. He consults the team through “blending sessions” and notes that he has to separate from his own preferences at this point. His priority is to determine proper taste for the different occasion and label. (Note - David’s toughest critic is his wife whose all time favorite Iron Horse Sparkling is Russian Cuvee)
Step 4: After the sparkling blends are chosen, they’re put into stainless steel then refrigerated to
force crystals to form so they won’t form in the bottle. You’ll find these “cold stabilization” tanks with ice on the sides!
Step 5: Seven days before bottling day, he grows a yeast culture. One day before bottling, he adds sugar. The product is bottled for the secondary fermentation creating bubbles and then aged for three to eight and even 15 years for the future magnums of Joy!
Step 6: The riddling process and disgorging process remove the spent yeast. At this point, a dose of David’s “special sauce” is added - this secret ingredient determines the degree of sweetness to dryness and sets the style of each of the Iron Horse bubblies.
Fun Fact! Even the Iron Horse corks have been specially curated. The vineyard partners with one family in Portugal - David says they’re the best in the business! Signature cork shown off below by the wonderful Wine Club Manager Kevin Vanderhoff.
If you ask David to name his favorite bottling - you won’t find an easy answer. His passion for all of his creations drives the Winemaker’s Choice Club option where David selects his two favorite bottles each month to answer the question of “what’s the winemaker drinking.” Sometimes he’ll spotlight “hidden gems” which he and the cellar master might stumble upon by accident in some forgotten corner … a discovery prospect which I found very romantic!
He does make a few recommendations:
Summit Cuvee, commemorating the history making free climb by two brave climbers and Iron Horse friends in Yosemite in January. Some have called it his “masterpiece,” the special sauce (aka liqueur de dosage) is a deliciously distinctive flavor with notes of caramelized cream soda like.
Russian Cuvee, the “ideal toasting” sparkling, always at the ready, chilling in his fridge at home.
Ocean Reserve, made in partnership with National Geographic. $4 a bottle goes to National Geographic’s Ocean Initiative to help establish marine protected areas and support sustainable fishing.
And Summer’s Cuvee, a limited production, seasonal pop that he dreamed about for years before actually developing. The new vintage has just been released!
Pictured below... bottles always line his desk and the Tasting Room shelves just outside.
He also enjoys working with longtime Iron Horse special partners, like Charlie Palmer, Michael Mina, Commander’s Palace, and Disney where Iron Horse is the official wine in the theme parks and on board their cruise ships. These friends have a long standing trust in the irresistible allure of the vineyard flavors and David’s winemaking prowess.
David, a poetic and gentle soul at his core, explained sweetly “You want to fall in love with the wine.” This reflects our winemaker’s self-assigned mission to create the perfect sip which anchors you into a memory and an experience. He speaks about overhearing brides in the Tasting Room reminiscing about Wedding Cuvee on their special day and is filled with emotion. That’s what he works for. That pairing of a beautiful moment in time punctuated by the specially crafted and perfectly corresponding bubbles.
For more fun with David, Iron Horse offers very special “Truck Tours” of the vineyard on Mondays, by appointment only. And I must warn you that these tours are becoming legendary at Iron Horse. A recent “Truck Tour” resulted in a proposal and a pop of a champagne cork with David as a co-conspirator.
He began a private tour with a glass of bubbly & an unsuspecting future bride accompanied by her prince charming. David led the couple to a barrel conveniently placed in his favorite area of the vineyard where he strategically stopped the truck to point out the beautiful view of the winery - handed off a bottle of Wedding Cuvee - and stepped aside for the magic proposal to occur in the glow of fizzing Iron Horse bubbles. I think it goes without saying . . . she said YES.
Book your own romantic memories by clicking here . . .
-Interview with D. Munksgard as told to Tarin Teno
At Iron Horse, we wear our Pride on our sleeve…. and on our bottles, celebrating diversity with our 2010 Rainbow Cuvee. This second vintage of the vibrant, limited production bubbly delivers the celebratory experience that so perfectly pairs with this 45th anniversary of San Francisco Pride in our urban backyard ... and at the White House annual LGBT reception held June 24.
We are honored to be recognized as one of the top 6 most gay friendly winery in California.
On Saturday June 27, radio host Joel Riddell will be broadcasting live at the heart of the San Francisco festivities on Talk Radio 910 including a pre-taped interview about Iron Horse and the creation of Rainbow Cuvee. Stay tuned for more information on how to listen in.
San Francisco Pride occurs on June 27 - 28. The theme this year is “Equality without Exception”.
Here are some insider tips if you’re planning to attend.
1. Wear sunscreen.
2. Get to the parade early … it’s usually five people deep along the route.
3. Use Uber or take the bus. Do not try to park down there.
4. Obey the rules on nudity. (There aren’t any!)
5. Best bar for people watching, Twin Peaks at Castro and Market. It’s all glass and has a balcony.
6. Tune in to Dining Around with Joel Riddell on Saturday 1-3pm on iHeartRadio, Talk Station 910, KKSF.
7. For after the parade on Sunday, go to Disco Daddy at the SF Eagle. It will be the closest you can get to the spirit of “old Pride”. Sylvester, Dianna Ross, Grace Jones and the Village People will be channeled. $5 at the door, this is the best deal on Pride Day and walking distance from the parade.
8. Go see City Hall light up at night in the rainbow colors.
9. Get up to date on the “Alphabet Soup”. It’s not LGBT anymore. The latest is LGBTQQIA, which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex and Ally. By the way, Iron Horse is an ally.
10. Make sure you have your Rainbow Cuvee chilling at home. You’ll be ready for it when you get done.
The idea of Rainbow Cuvee is thanks to our friend and Direct to Consumer expert, Sonyia Grabski, inspired by the beauty of Gay Pride Flags fluttering in a June breeze.
The strong symbol and graphic direction provided the official colors which were carefully integrated with the Iron Horse brand by our label designer Mark Berry.
Mark presented six design variations to start the process. And in playing around with print techniques, our team discovered the option of an iridescent foil on the rainbow border. This element adds the festive and dynamic feeling that we wanted to convey the delicious flavors within and the larger message of our times.
For an insight into the design process, check out these interesting photos, showing the embossed base colors and the final foil stage.
Supplemental Reading for those who like a little FAQ FUN:
The Betsy Ross of the Rainbow Flag was San Francisco designer Gilbert Baker. It was first unfurled in 1978 at the Gay Freedom Day Parade. Legend has it that Baker was inspired by Judy Garland singing “Over the Rainbow” and the Stonewall riots that happened in New York shortly after Garland’s death.
The world's largest Pride celebration is in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
For a look back at attitudes and conventions before the Stonewall riots, here is an excellent article by David Dunlap in the New York Times.
It’s important to remember how much has changed in just the last decade … and exciting to celebrate that we are at a major tipping point in the march towards marriage equality, when the strength of national support has raised hopes of a Supreme Court ruling on the rights of same-sex couples to marry across the country.
Here's to the freedom of being yourself!
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
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.
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
“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.”
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.
A horrifying headline.
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.
1) water conveyance systems
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
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:
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
For those who have been to Iron Horse Vineyards, you know our Green Valley enterprise is a family affair. I run the front of the house, my brother is in charge of operations in the vineyards, and my parents set the standards. We all pitch in where extra hands are needed, but there is one role where exclusive credit is due. And that’s the role of Vegetable Garden CEO.
For years, my father has presided over a massive, roving vegetable garden with help from First Lieutenant Jose Puga who has assisted from the beginning. The garden has “gone viral” and now boasts over 300 varieties of tomatoes alone. The living exhibit of deliciousness rotates to different locations on the property, and this year the open field behind my house is playing host. Because of my proximity to the project, I will be regularly tracking growth on the blog!
Everything is started from seed but won't go into the ground until we are past frost season. Normally we worry about frost as late June 1st. But this year, everything is three weeks ahead, so the planting date is approaching.
Here are some of my dad’s top tips for starting a successful garden:
Q: First, explain the origins of your passion for gardening.
A: Living in France in the '60s was a real eye opener for me. In those days, in California, we didn’t have access to the variety of fresh vegetables and fruits that we encountered in Europe. For example, we had mainly two types of lettuce - iceburg and romaine, and we thought that was advanced. I remember the luncheon at the Savoy Hotel in London where I first had a mache salad.
We took the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the old world, which was new to us. We got very used to having fresh produce from the local markets every morning which generated an early “farm-to-table” menu. It was very exciting. When we moved back home from Europe, we couldn’t find the things that we’d grown accustomed to. So we simply decided to grow them!
To that end, on return visits to France, we made a point of shopping for seeds to continue growing the diversity in our Sonoma garden. Across from Notre Dame, there were two blocks of stalls along the river devoted to seeds. We could also find them in the South of France, near the flower market in Nice.
Q: What is the size and scope of the garden this year?
A: The vegetable garden will be about two acres. I need a lot of room! The size is necessary for the diversity that I’m committed to.
Q: What’s new and exciting this season’s garden?
A: There are always some new things to try. I have a special enthusiasm for my tomatoes, but in order to save space for new things, I limit myself to 300 types of tomatoes. And I’m constantly refining my collection to allow for new varieites to enter the garden’s repertoire.
Charentais melons have always been one of my specialities, a product indigenous to Provence. I’m also starting fresh with new artichokes this spring. For me, the “excitement factor” is delivered by innovations in produce color, flavor, and shape. It’s the ever evolving variety that keeps me passionate and engaged. Any one vegetable can have a number of different textures, colors, and styles. Years ago, most items had one color - like white cauliflower, green beans and red beets. Now you get a gorgeous range of colors for some if the classics. One of our favorites last year was beautiful golden cauliflower.We now make the most delicious beet chips, sweeter than potatoe chips, made from white beets.
Food really is more exciting now than ever.
Q: What environmental considerations do you keep in mind on the estate?
A: It’s important to rotate crops so you don’t play out your land. We rotate our garden on the property every couple of years.
I have farming in my blood passed down from several generations. One set of grandparents were homsteaders in Alberta, Canada. My mother's family grew walnuts in San Juan Capistrano. My father grew grapefuit and dates in the Coachella Valley, so I have always had ties to the land, a love of the land, and we work towards a better understanding of sustainable farming principles. No chemicals. We weed with old fashioned, long handled hoes and irrigate with recycled water using drip hoses.
Q: How has the vegetable garden added to the overall richness of the Iron Horse estate?
A: Variety is the spice of life. Nothing tastes quite like our home grown tomatoes. We firmly believe the fruits and vegetables we grow here naturally pair beautifully with our wines - terroir and terroir. The enthusiasm has touched every member of my family. My children and grandchildren have all participated in the garden planning and tasks at some point.
Q: What are your top tips for the at-home grower?
A: As you sketch out the garden and pick your seeds, you can start planting certain items in a hot house to get them going. It’s important to be aware of your climate’s limitation. For us, we can still get frost through the end of spring, so getting a head start is key. I also grow three seedlings for each of 300 types of tomato I will plant and then only plant out the strongest one of each varitety in the ground. Right now, that means I have 900 tomato plants that we are raising. This is to insure we have a succesful crop.
My top tip is to get a hot house. These days you can purchase a self assembling, small hot house. Getting that head start is worth-while.
Q: What are some of your favorite sources of seeds for those who need a little guidance?
A: There are marvellous catalogues and exchanges like “Seed Savers” and “The Territorial Seed Company” and "Totally Tomatoes". Here in Sonoma County, Petaluma has the "Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company"store inside a grand old bank bnuilding, which has a beautiful selection comparable to my old haunts in Paris. Every year, these sources bring a few options that end up as permanent "favorites" in the planting schedule. The hard part is being restricted to just 300 kinds of tomatoes.
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.
Welcome to the first installment of our Star Chef Blog Series. Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing Q&As with our most special friends who serve custom Iron Horse cuvees in their restaurants. In honor of Easter & Passover, and with the spirit of renewal that comes with Spring, we’ve interviewed Iron Horse's great friend Charlie Palmer for a fresh take on a classic.
Starting with New York City’s Aureole, Charlie now owns 14 restaurants around the country, two hotels in the heart of California’s wine country and The Mystic Hotel in San Francisco. Our friendship with Charlie Palmer is as rich as his culinary creations and shines through in the delicious Aureole Cuvee. The current release is our 20th vintage of making this unique, limited production bubbly.
When we called Charlie up one early Spring day, we challenged him to walk us through a seasonally appropriate food pairing for our sparkling wine and Pinot Noirs. The season is right for the Sonoma County baby lamb or ham and our Pinot Noirs just received stellar ratings by the editors at Wine Enthusiast which will appear in the June 2015 issue. Here’s what we learned...
IRON HORSE INTERVIEW WITH CHARLIE PALMER:
Iron Horse: What drew you to develop a partnership with Iron Horse?
Charlie Palmer: We started with Iron Horse years ago. My team of wine directors and sommeliers aimed to develop a sparkling wine that was both “food friendly” and could be an aperitif. The Aureole Cuvee is just that. We offer restaurant guests a small coup glass as they peruse the cocktail menu. Just 3 ozs of bubbles triggers that feeling of celebration and serves as a palette starter, but you can certainly drink it through the entire meal.