PR Advice,Public Relations,Top 10,Wine

Top 10 Faux Pas of Wine PR People

Media people get tired of us. While we’re the link to their samples, the less they have to do with us after the samples arrive, the better. From their list of complaints, I’ve compiled the do’s from their don’t, of the top 10 faux pas of wine PR people regarding sending them samples.

I fell into a Facebook stream, which began from a PR pro. He began the stream by asking people to stop doing what they’re doing, because they’re giving the “rest of us” a black eye. He didn’t specify what we’re doing, so many media people jumped in, with PR reps becoming the punching bag. I seem to be drawn in, when PR people are being trounced. (I can’t resist being a champion of ANY underdog, so it was natural for me to see what was going on.)

There were a couple of positive comments in the stream, and also the reminder about St. John’s rules from one PR pro; i.e., know the basics. The positives came from two wine writers that I greatly respect.  Here are their helpful comments.

  1. My experience has been generally positive with publicists. I typically enjoy most samples but I don’t comment on everything, just the wines that stand out.
  2. I don’t mind one follow up at all it’s just the multiple ones that are annoying.

The basics for PR pros sending wine samples

  1. Know your audience.
    1. Read the writer’s column or blog ahead of time, before sending samples.
      1. This allows you to better understand the person’s preferences.
      2. Perhaps your wine won’t match the person’s palate.
  2. Every writer’s preferences are different regarding samples and meetings.
    1. Get to know the person.
    2. Put notes into your data base about the person’s preferences.
  3. If you’ve asked for their address in the past, they don’t want you to do it again, so make sure you keep a current data base.
    1. CAVEAT: It’s been my experience that many factors happen for this question being asked on the PR end, besides not keeping the database list, which was assumed.
      1. People move frequently.
      2. They don’t send any announcements to their list of people who provide samples to them.
      3. I’ve had samples returned, so now I have to ask, “Are you still at the same address?”
      4. I do a lot of address updating this way.
  4. Call or email first, to see if your samples would work for the writer.
    1. Many of them want to give you permission to send the wines.
      1. Wines that just arrive without notice or permission really throw them off.
      2. So, always ask unless you know otherwise.
      3. SOME NEW RULES from past assumptions to just send:
        1. The Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator are now also asking for that call or E-Mail
        2. Wine Enthusiast and Wine & Spirits are not, at this time, wanting you to take that extra step.
    2. Also, you need to be certain that someone will be there to receive the wines.
      1. CAVEAT: Writers pass away, and in your area it might not be announced.
      2. It’s happened to me, when the wine was returned. This person would always accept my wines.
      3. Then I wrote the obit as a public service on my wine blog.
  5. Send tasting notes along with your wine.
    1. If you don’t, they have to do the research; and if they don’t have time for research, you chances just got less for them to write about your wines.
    2. You’ll also be judged as someone just starting out, or someone from an agency that doesn’t work with wine much. ~ Ding ~
  6. Send wines with price or production information.
    1. Expensive press kit binder need to also include this info.
  7. Put a sticker on every bottle outlining suggested retail, release dates, and a contact.
  8. Provide where the wine(s) can be found locally, if it’s a regional writer.
    1. It’s not the norm.
    2. It’s extra work, but worth the effort.
    3. You’ll stand out.
  9. MOST ANNOYING TO THEM: Follow-up questions, about them having received your wines or liking your wine(s), for the majority of the writers who responded.
    1. Writers want to taste and write, if they like your wine.
    2. If they didn’t like the wines, the saying, “no response is a response” applies.
    3. Tracking you wines tells you if the wine has arrived or not.
  10. Know your time of year, avoiding the dead cold of winter, or the scorching heat of summer.
    1. This one wasn’t on their list of complaints.
    2. In my playbook, it’s one of the most important ones, for preserving the integrity of the wine.

As a blogger, when I get questions from people who have sent wine to me, I understand, because I have to walk in those shoes. So, I just politely give an answer. It only takes me a few minutes to do that. My thinking is that I ride both sides of the line. Being in PR has had me understanding both sides of the coin.

Simple solution to end media complaining about us

I wrote, “Just pay for your own wines. You’ll never be harassed again…” I had one person who liked what I wrote, but no one else commented on it. It was a thought that immediately occurred to me, but I don’t think it went over well. It wasn’t too PRed.


Bubbly Wine,Ecology,Environment,Event,Green Valley,Russian River Valley,Sonoma County,Wine,Winery

Commitment of Joy Sterling and Kevin Jorgeson toward our Earth

These days, Mother Nature is cleverly disguised as Joy Sterling, of Iron Horse Vineyards. For as long as I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Joy, I’ve found this to be true. She has the intellect, understanding, compassion, and resources to pull it off.

She cares for the earth in ways that many of us can’t even begin to imagine. She has many other sides to her personality, knowing exactly what and when to create as a special sparkling wine with focus coming from Green Valley of Russian River Valley. Her brother Lawrence Sterling grows it, and she markets it, besides being the winery’s CEO. Parents Barry and Audrey Sterling couldn’t be more pleased, you can just see it as they look at what their children are accomplishing.

If there is a possibility of an environmental theme involving something to do with our planet , you can bet that Joy Sterling has already got it covered, while the rest of us are still slapping our foreheads wondering, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Take, for instance, her guest speak at this past Sunday’s Earth Day celebration. Kevin Jorgeson (above). Kevin, along with his partner Tommy Caldwell, in January of this year, bravely free-climbed the 3,000-foot Dawn Wall of El Capitan, in Yosemite National Park. Kevin was a very fitting speaker. How many of us know anyone with this much guts and glory for facing Mother Earth, and achieving what seemed to be absolutely impossible? This daring duo completed the first ever free climb of this wall, making serious history, by finishing their quest to be the first ever to free-climb the Dawn Wall.

[Image borrowed from Kevin Jorgeson’s Facebook page.]
Kevin spoke of his journey, with the following story below being borrowed from Kevin’s Website, and was repeated at the event:

“In 2009, Kevin asked Tommy Caldwell if he needed a partner for his new project on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Over the next six years, Tommy and Kevin spent hundreds of days working out the pieces, failing constantly, but keeping the dream alive that one day, they might free climb this route.

“On December 27, 2014, Kevin and Tommy started their “push,” to leave the ground and not return until they either succeeded or were stormed off. [It was] 19 days later, they stood on top of El Capitan having completed what many are calling the hardest route ever climbed.”

I liked the way he presented himself. He took the microphone from its stand, so he could have free 360º access. The way people had positioned themselves, if they couldn’t fit into the tent, was that they they sat behind the stage. He wanted everyone to be included, and so he was free-form, as he had had to be on the face of that wall. Understanding where the greatest opportunity was at the exact right moment, in order to achieve his goal..

Jose (my partner) told me that he liked what he had to say about dying: You die once and then you die again when people stop talking about you. Some of us are driven to outlast time… Kevin is one of those people. It’s that driving force to not be soon forgotten.

You can now follow Kevin and Tommy’s entire journey on this link to his Website.

Kevin’s own words on his Facebook page:  My goal after the Dawn Wall is simple: Help turn inspiration into action. And, speaking of his Facebook page, let’s return to above for a moment. Remember what I wrote?

“If there is a possibility of an environmental theme involving something to do with our planet , you can bet that Joy Sterling has already thought about it, while the rest of us are still slapping our foreheads.”

Well… When Kevin and Tommy reached their goal on the top of the Dawn Wall, guess what they had as a celebratory sparkling wine? And guess who made sure that there would also be a limited production… There were only 300 cases produced; so contact the winery, if you’d like to reach new heights, too. www.ironhorsevineyards.come



Macroclimate, Microclimate, Mesoclimate, and Canopy Climates

Microclimate on rock located in intertidal zon...
Image via Wikipedia

For all of the words that are used in writing about a vineyard’s climate terroir, there are significant differences with each. If you don’t have the luxury of a viticulture class close by, or you’re just too busy to attend a class, here’s a good primer.

Vit 101 brought some interesting concepts to me, including that there just aren’t the microclimates that we hear and read about all the time. Climatologists recognize that there are four levels of climate that exist in vineyards, which is dependent on the size of the area that’s involved in defining what’s what.

I’ve added the image to the right, because it’s explained as a microclimate on rock located in intertidal zone in Sunrise-on-Sea, South Africa, to demonstrate that microclimates exist in nature… period, not just within agriculture.

Macroclimate is what exists in the grand scheme of things, like the image above. It’s the overall climate of a specific region, like a heavy fog that blankets the Russian River Valley, for instance.

Mesoclimate is what happens in a region on a smaller scale. The mesoclimate has variables in altitude, soil types, and the distance from a river ~ where the fog will burn off further away from a river’s bank first, and evaporate to the river’s edge as it goes through the burning off process.

Microclimate is what exists within a few rows of a vineyard. It’s in the microclimate that vineyardists have the most control of managing for distinct flavors and aromas of wine grapes and the resulting wine. This is the reason why we’re continually reading about this particular climate over all the others.

As I walked with Dick Keenan at his Kick Ranch Vineyard, Dick explained that those winemakers who are buying his fruit are very row specific for what they’re purchasing, because they’ve been in on all the vineyard practices for those exact microclimate rows. The winemakers know the rows so well, and have had a hand in shaping the vines’ microclimates, that they’re not interested in anyone else’s vines, except as a curiosity once the wine’s been produced.

Canopy microclimate refers to the environment around the individual foliage of a vine. While a vineyard would have had early morning fog, as it burns off, cool moisture remains under the vine’s canopy. While it’s burning off above the vine bringing in warmer air, within the canopy system, it takes a bit longer for the fog to evaporate, and consequently keeps the grapes a bit cooler for an extended period of time.

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Ecology,Environment,Event,Sonoma County,Wine

Earth Day 2015 April 22

The Summer of Love gave birth to an important movement… The first Earth Day began the following year in 1970, by U.S. Senator from Wisconsin Gaylord Nelson. He witnessed the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. He was inspired by the Vietnam anti-war movement and felt that if he could take that energy “into a public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda.” It brought tremendous awareness to those of us who were in the “now” of it all. And, if we look at where we’ve arrived, it wasn’t a moment too soon. However, the challenges just chased big business out of the US into Third World Countries, instead of investing in the necessary changes to become sustainable. Now Third World Countries are having to pay the price for the dirty, polluted materialism. We can all live on less. But, do we want to? Do we care for Mother Earth enough? Time will tell.

Meanwhile, Earth Day  is still an awareness day; most especially as the world has become so much smaller via social media.

Think About Earth Day

I grew up in the manufacturing town of Lewiston, Maine. At the foot of Bleachery Hill existed a row of factories… Pepperill Mill was a bleachery, making cottons sheets for an adoring America. Their huge smoke stakes spewed constant smoke, it seemed, billowing up into the air we all breathed. On the other side of the Canal that carried their polluted water into the Androscoggin River was the Bates Mill. There, they made the ever popular – at the time – Martha Washington bedspreads.  Further down the canal (on Canal Street) were shoe manufacturing companies, when my grandfather would take me into a small retail stores to buy shoes for the next school year. I can still smell the leather from the tannery within the building.

It was they that we successfully shout down with our demands for a cleaner environment. Now, it’s the world’s turn… The factories don’t have to close, as much as they need big business to stop the thinking of excessive profits and put some of that money into sustainability.

I’m thankful for those in the wine business, who have already begun this process. Some grape growers are exemplary farmers who want to make a difference in the methods they choose for their own manufacturing, by doing it though scientific methods that are working.

Iron Horse Vineyards is one such example. Another one for me, because it’s one of our clients, is The Rubin Family of Wines. I’ve spend copious hours working with Ron Rubin’s sustainability experts Jim Pratt (Cornerstone Certified Vineyards) and Dr. Mark Greenspan, PhD (Advanced Viticulture).  In meetings, interviews, transposing tapes into text… Listening, learning, and writing about it in documents, there’s so much to learn and know. It all leads to a better planet… It all leads to more appreciation and understanding of our fragile planet, from like minded people.

I’ve been a guest at the Sterling Family’s Earth Day event for the last five events, including the one yesterday. This year’s inspirational speaker was Kevin Jorgeson. Before Kevin talked about his scaling to heights never before achieve, a special surprise was to have Governor Jerry Brown make a special guest appearance. I’m also inspired to continue with this story on this wine blog tomorrow, because so much happened at this vineyard Earth Day event, that I’d like to take it step by step.

The following is a photo collection of the day. These images tell the rest of the story for today. If you’re on board with Earth Day, I appreciate your mind so much. If you’re not there yet, and think it’s just a hippie movement, please think again. We need you. Your children need you, and your grandchildren will need you to show them the way, for a kinder, greener thinking world.

More to follow during this week. For today, here is the VIP Garden Party.



Viticulture 101 ~ 3

Viticulture 101 ~ 3

VIT 101: During spring, the color green is bright and vibrant in the vineyards, with all of the new foliage. You can see wine grapes growing in the background of this picture. I took this picture at Concannon Vineyard in Livermore. The reason I chose this image it to show you the juxtaposition of table grapes in the foreground (growing across the arbor) with wine grapes, in the background (the vineyard). Having lunch under this arbor in the summertime is a real treat. Rita Conner, C.j. Tolini, and most especially you, Monique R Dubois. You’re the one, Monique, who lives nearby and may not know about this special place.

VIT 101: Mature tendrils. This is where the vines’ canes are now all headed… Long, slim fingers reaching out to grasp onto something, anything. This picture was taken at Bacigalupi Vineyards last year, during their 50th Anniversary of the Paris Tasting. It was THEIR Chardonnay grapes that Chateau Montelena used to make their famous wine, submitted it, and THEN won the famous Paris Tasting. Tendrils like this, no doubt, had a hand in the process.

VIT 101: Continuing on this concept, this next image in our series proves the point that tendrils are looking for anything to grasp. With a trellis system designed to bring the grapes up away from the ground, the canes can be easily trained. This past week, I saw many instances of crews in the vineyards, now training these vines to go upward onto the next trellis level.

I took this picture at Iron Horse Vineyards’ Earth Day event. The Sterling family has accomplished a lot, as regards making our earth a better place to live. This was my fifth year of attending this spherical day in their vineyards and gardens.


PR Advice,Public Relations

When you hire someone to do PR for you, that’s not where your job ends

It’s where it begins for true success…

I wish I had penned that bit of wisdom, because it’s brilliant. Alas, it was penned by another, and I don’t take credit for someone else’s words of wisdom. So, credit to the universe.

When I read it, I didn’t make note of the author. The words, however, have never left my mind.

Another great bit of knowledge that I’ve found is by LAD Communications, penned by Anne Louise Bannon (May 2002 issue of Wines & Vines): “Which may mean that even when you’ve gotten big enough to hire someone to do your publicity for you, you’ll still be doing much of your own PR. But that’s what telling your story is all about, and that’s what sells wine.”

This is still relevant today, even though it was written in 2002.

This is very important information when you’ve decided to hire a PR agency or person to represent you. In the wine business, how many brands are out there? I’d love an exact figure, but I don’t have it for this world-wide market. It’s not outside the realm of possibilities that there could there be as many as 10,000 worldwide?

It’s not like the peanut butter business, let’s say, where you’ve got fewer than a dozen brands. Those stories are very easy to tell. Nobody cares who started the company, and nobody’s going to ogle over the flavors. It’s pretty straight forward, “Is is smooth or chunky?”

With wine, your flavors will stand on their own, against the other 10,000 in the world.

So, what’s going to really sell your wine to a wine writer who could be thinking to him or herself? “Who are the characters behind the scenes, tell me everything you can about this person or people, and when may I talk to him or her?”

So, PR 101 is really what my mom drilled into my head ever so long ago, “God helps those who help themselves.”

PR people are just the missing link in the process to bridge the gap between who you are and getting that story into the hands of a writer. PR people open the door for you, and your job is to then step-up and be willing to tell your story, when the opportunity arises. And remember, opportunity only knocks once.

Cliche? Yes.

Good advice? You decide…


Education,Wine,Wine Etiquette

Wine Tasting Etiquette ~ Perfume is for romance, not for wine tasting

Wine Tasting Etiquette ~ 101

Although there’s a lot of “romance” associated with the “wine experience,” additional aromas when tasting wine doesn’t really add anything. In fact, it takes a lot away from a really pleasant experience.

I’m no saint with this one. I’ll admit it… I learned this the hard way.

It was when I began my wine career in a tasting room. What did I know? I honestly knew so little about wine, that I didn’t know this really basic rule. I was gently told, and life moved on to a more enjoyable place.

Once one’s wearing perfume – this applies to both men and women – the pure enjoyment of tasting wine’s been drastically altered. It’s impossible to pick up all the nuances, if any perfume’s included in the experience.

It’s been years since I’ve worn perfume, as a result. What that’s done to my senses has allowed for me to smell even more delicate aromas than before I dropped the love potions. My sniffer’s so sensitive that this past week, I was able to smell cigarette smoke from another car, while we waited for the light to turn green… and all my windows were up. (I’ve also got a tank of a car for tight closure.) I honestly should have never smelled the other person’s cigarette smoke. Imagine, then, the person who just bathed in cologne standing next to me at a tasting. I’m over the edge before I even begin… And so are many, many others.

Consider, when you’re going to be wine tasting, that the more aromas you’re wearing, the less you’re really going to smell and taste wine. You’ll greatly benefit, as will those around you, if you hold off the perfume for the most romantic part of your day… An evening soirée with someone you love…after you’ve had your candlelight food and wine dinner.


Amenities, Supplies, Services,PS I Love You,Restaurants,Wine

A classic restaurant, bar, caterers, and picnic item… Boxxle

Being asked if I’d consider Boxxle, I had no clue what it was or that it even existed, so I curiously said, “Sure.” When it arrived, I thought, “What a great restaurant, bar, caterer or picnic item!” And, I’m hooked.

Restaurants, bars, and caterers

For people in restaurants and bars… Remember me? I’m the one who asks, “How long has the bottle of this wine been opened?” There’s nothing more irritating to me than knowing that the wine I’ve just ordered and received is dated… Bars and restaurants mostly make money on the first glass poured, if you didn’t know that; so, they’re happy to see how long they can continue to sell that bottle of wine, boosting their profits. And, who can blame them, in some regards. They’re also very happy to replace the wine, if you dare to call it out, because you know better. It simply goes back to the bar and a new glass arrives, tasting a whole lot better.

“Dare” is the operative word in this one, too. Most people don’t know enough about wine to know the difference. If it’s been opened way too long and it’s oxidized… never mind “corked…” I ask about its freshness, based on the wine tasting flat. Wine should be lively in flavor, not lacking brightness.

SIDEBAR: Don’t be “that one” who orders a wine and then you decide you don’t personally like brand’s “flavor.” That’s your bad, not the wine’s bad.

Corked is also a whole other story… it shouldn’t even get to our tables in the first place. When it does, it’s a teachable moment. I don’t just say, “There’s something wrong with this wine.” I say, “This wine is corked.” If they look at me quizzically, I continue. “Here, smell it, so you know what ‘corked’ is all about.” If I have to explain corked, I’m happy to do that too. I’m a wine educator and happy to help someone to learn about TCA (tricholoranisole).

If I were in the business of serving beverages to other people, this would be a necessary item… And, I’m in that business once a year, when I thank the volunteers who give their time, energy, and hearts to PS I Love You, to help us fund raise for our annual 501 C6 non-profit to keep it going.


Caterers, same as above for your profit margin.

PERSONALLY: Each year, PS I Love You holds an annual event. (PS I Love You is the wine advocacy group that I started with Foppiano Vineyards in 2002, and it’s still going strong on behalf of Petite Sirah as a wine grape variety.)

Member wineries are willing to share their Petite Sirahs for this event. Many of the members even attend to pour their own wines. We’ve held it at Gustafson Family Vineyards, as well as Lone Oak Vineyard owned by Kent Rosenblum of Rock Wall Wines. It’s about a 60 person party. Each year, I ask the members to share their wines.

The oddest part is when I ask them to include a white wine, too, if they make one. In my thinking, it seems to me that this picnic should be all about Petite Sirah, because we hold it for our event volunteers. But then, it’s held in the summer, in a Russian River Vineyard, when the heat of the day is almost established by 12:00 noon, when everyone begins to arrive. So, I know that many people want to first enjoy a refreshing glass of white wine. It’s great that they’re member wines. It’s most likely, however, that no one will be there to talk about those whites. Wine gets marketed and ultimately sold, in my humble opinion, at events like this, when a personal connection happens. With most of these wines, they’re opened and people just have “whatever.” This is unfair to the producers, I know it and it’s been a burr under my saddle for as long as this event has been happening… for the last eight years.

I also know that most of my producers may feel the same way. I had yet to find a fair answer… Until Boxxle came along. This is a fair and equitable solution for me, and I’ll be loading in the white from a box company from one of the members… and I’ll promote it as such.


Imagine this one, restaurants, bars, and caterers. If you’ve got a wine by the glass program going on, and you’re willing to serve a great boxed wine, you’ll have wine that you can count on for the next five weeks, if you only sell one to two glasses a day. You KNOW you’ll move through the wine a lot quicker, if it’s a popular variety; but, what if it’s a more obscure varietal wine? This gives you great options and opportunity to expand your by-the-glass program, beyond your wildest dreams… Can you say, “Great profits,” boys and girls?


PERSONAL: For consumers, you’ve got to think about getting wine to a picnic or to the beach… Maybe you’ll be at the beach for a week or two. Maybe you’re headed camping.  You might even have some friends who will join you. Your Boxxle is in your refrigerator or tent, and it just gets tapped. It’s like a keg of beer, but it’s a box of wine, put into a container that keeps it fresh and clean, and it’s a blast to “tap,” in those fun summer moments.

I do advocate for boxed wine.  No air getting into the box, the wine can last as long as six weeks, versus five days, if you’re lucky. I conducted an experiment for six weeks and the boxed wine lasted the entire time.


Education,Field Blend,Vineyards,Viticulture

Viticulture 101 – 2

Viticulture 101 continued from last Monday…

APRIL 8, 2015:

Vines are trained in two different ways. This is the other way, with cordons being discussed in last week’s Viticulture blog. It’s called a “head pruned vine.” The trunk grows up, each spring it grows canes (with leaves, shoots, and tendrils). It then is pruned back during the winter months, to start all over again the following spring.

I took this picture at Field Stone Winery and Vineyard in the fall, years ago. These vines are now 130 years old!

Rita Connor: Great color

Jo Diaz: Fall can be beautiful out here. The color of the vines shows disease… Our little secret. It’s Pierce’s Disease. It doesn’t affect the flavor of the wines. It just reduces the vine’s strength, until it’s finally gone. UC IPM – “It’s caused by sap-feeding insects that feed on the xylem”

APRIL 9, 2015:

Taking the glamor and romance away from a vineyard, to get to the heart of it, the most important thing to remember is that it is a grape crop grown in a garden. In many cases, it’s grown right along side other fruits and vegetables… In this case, artichokes are in the foreground at Iron Horse Vineyards, with the vineyard being in the background.

Rita Conner: Love this information. I know the reason they plant all those beautiful roses along the edges of the vineyard.

Jo Diaz: They are more for decoration than for anything else. When I first got here, people were talking about rose flavors in the wines. It would take so many roses to even begin to do such a thing, but it did sound very romantic. This is why I wrote about about the “glamor and romance.” I’m reducing it down to dirt. LOL; but, it’s really pretty dirt.

Rita Connor: We were told that the roses were an early detection of a bug infection. Therefore they knew how to protect the vineyard. Fact or fiction?

Jo Diaz: I forgot about that one.  You’re right. Thanks for the memory jog. Powdery mildew… Thanks… Helping me through it all, Rita.

Now, I’ll have to find an image in my thousands with rose bushes at the end of vines. I’ve taken this to my wine blog as a once a week blog. You’re mentioned and I wanted to ask you if I can link your name to Facebook. I didn’t do it without asking permission. This week I’ve been in a writing frenzy for one client, so I forgot to ask you. Here’s a link: Wine Blog

[Photo Credit: Rita Connor]

Rita Connor: Of course you can. This is a picture I took in 2007


APRIL 10, 2015

Along with viticulture being complemented with adjoining crops, like the olive trees in the image above,  they can also be enhanced with integrated pest management. Owl and hawk boxes help to keep the rodent population down… much preferred to those pesky rattle snakes doing it for us in California. But there are other critters who are a natural complement, too, which I learned in Portugal. Europe is more earthy and holistic than we Americans are, when it comes to matters like these. Sheep… mowing between the rows and fertilizing as they go along, too… This was delightful to see. I hadn’t yet seen this in California, but do have to say that I’ve now seen it at Tres Sabores in Napa.




The timing of the Green Parade has never been better… Irrigation-wise

Earth Day is just days away…. California’s drought versus viticulture is very complex, but has the ability to get people thinking more intelligently and scientifically. And, the Green Parade may have finally just arrived, more than a few decades from the summer of love, peace, and ecology.

I just read an article by Dan Berger (Vintage Experiences) entitled, “Weaning vines off water,” appearing in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

I’ve got to hand it to Dan. He’s been a friend for a very long time, and writing about wine for as long as I can remember. He was located in Los Angeles and working for the LA Times when we met. Once he moved into Santa Rosa, we obviously got closer, as did all of his stories based on his location. Dan has always been on the leading edge, provocatively and thoughtfully so. I like what he began with his story about weaning vines off water. I know it’s already begun as a first chapter. It’s the second chapter that’s now become critical of what to do in California viticulture. Winemakers who are already enlightened are now quietly thinking… “Get on board with sustainable efforts, “y’all!”

One wine pro privately shared with me: Grape growing opponents have already begun drawing on this article as evidence that we are wasteful in a time of drought, as evidenced by the comments on the PD website.

Personally, I just wrote about overhead irrigation (or irrigating for frost protection at the absolute wrong time of day, if THAT was the intent). It was an egregious and blatant use of water, right after we had had rain, and it hit a chord for wastefulness.

Dan Berger’s story has begun an important process in a meaningful way. I’d like to add more to what has begun, based on what I’ve also been learning along the way.

So, how does over use of watering get turned around?

The answer is very simple… Science… if science is ever simple. But, it is, if you just pay attention.

Dan’s story included a winemaker who has been intuitively farming for a long time. What he had to say reminded me of my early gardening advice. It came from my 90 year old neighbor when I first met him. I was buying his fruits and veggies, began my own organic garden, and then I took his advice:

Dry farm…. Don’t water your plants. Let the roots go deeply into the ground, so you produce strong plants. They’ll give you plenty of fruits and vegetables that will taste great.

And, he was right. I put up 30 quarts of tomatoes, my first year, without even trying to have so many tomatoes with about five plants.

Does this also apply to California?

Not the same way, at all… The difference between the East Coast and the West Coast is that the East Coast dry farming is dependent upon rain. He didn’t want me to be at my garden every day; however, if it ever did get dry – with no rain for a long period of time – he suggested doing something about it. Still… All of this is intuitive.

[Image taken at Robert Biale Vineyards in Napa.]

What if science were to enter into the conversation?

I’m very fortunate to be working closely with The Rubin Family of Wines, located in the Green Valley of Russian River Valley. Proprietor Ron Rubin is a master at life. He doesn’t do anything halfway. The Sonoma County vintner throws himself into what he does, paying close attention to every single detail. So, when he bought his 40-year dream winery, he set about hiring every single accomplished consultant, who would become his advisory panel. This is beyond having a staff whose skills were spot on from the onset.

Sustainability was his first concern.

  • His vineyard manager Alvaro Zamora had planted every single vine in the vineyard. To replace him could have been suicide.
  • He additionally hired Jim Pratt, of Cornerstone Certified Vineyards, to be his director of vineyard operations, with Alvaro remaining as his vineyard manager. Jim brought a level of sustainability to Ron’s team that the Green Valley of Russian River Valley vineyard had not ever known. Everything is measured carefully, to produce the best vines ever. When, where, how much to fertilize, and with what materials, which would have the least amount of impact on the surrounding environment, yet nurture the vines.
  • Next, he hired Dr. Mark Greenspan, of Advanced Viticulture, Inc., who brought in weather stations. It’s these weather stations that dictate terroir in a more precise way. (Drip irrigation is the method used, and it’s precisely measured… There’s no waste. There’s no untimely water usage, there’s no over watering. It’s precise, sustainable, responsible, and done with great care and thought. (Mark’s comments below are expressed for critical thinking.
  • Together, they all work with Rubin’s critically acclaimed winemaker Joe Freeman.

With science to now back it up, it’s the conscientious brands that are already on line with programs like Ron Rubin’s. They’re the ones already quietly leading the green parade, with the help of certified scientists. Those who aren’t there yet, please get on board.  As we approach Earth Day, the timing of the Green Parade to have great success has never been better… or more critical.

According to Mark Greenspan, Ph.D., CCA, CPAg

As a scientist and practitioner working with the water needs of grapevine vineyards, I applaud the work done by Mr. Williams and agree wholeheartedly with him that many growers are using excessive amounts of water to irrigate their vineyards. However, to extrapolate the experience of dry farmers to that of the industry as a whole is not complete. Some vineyard soils are indeed able to support a vineyard throughout the season without irrigation when practices, such as those applied by growers like Williams, are implemented. However, a large proportion of vineyards cannot withstand the stresses experienced during a portion of the dry summer months experienced here in California, and it is a mistake to assume that all, or even most, vineyards can be farmed in this manner.

Applying the Science

That said, as a contributing [scientific] writer for a leading wine industry publication and a frequent public speaker, I have chided the industry publicly for using more water for irrigation than is necessary for vineyards. Unlike many other field and permanent crops, grapevines are thrifty water users and can be very water use efficient if water is managed carefully, using specialized sensors and devices for measuring soil moisture and plant moisture status. We delay irrigation for as long as possible into the summer months, encouraging the vines to extract as much rain-fed moisture from the soil water bank as possible. By doing this, we wean the vines off the “quick fix” of irrigation, as Williams stated, encouraging a deeper and more extensive root system. We have found that repeated years of doing this allows us to delay our first irrigation well into the latter weeks of summer. In fact, in this manner, we do find that some vineyards may be dry farmed. Yet, as I have said, most vineyards require a small amount of irrigation to get them through the period between the depletion of winter/spring moisture and the beginning of fall rains. And by imposing a mild stress on the vines, we put the vines into a water-use-efficient state where we need to irrigate with only approximately 20 percent of what the theoretical water use is for a vineyard during the period of irrigation. The net of this is that we irrigate with only a small fraction of the 100 gallons per vine that Dan Berger referred to in his article about Mr. Williams.

In essence, I have more in common with Williams’ methods than with the industry as a whole, and feel that growers can make great strides in reducing their water footprint by employing best management practices for vineyard water management. But having worked with vineyards all over the North Coast and the state, I can honestly say that to say that all vineyards should be farmed without irrigation is misleading and more needs to done in this regard to make it complete.

Mark Greenspan, President and Viticulturist of Advanced Viticulture, Inc.