Rain gives SLO County wineries strong start to season

Oak trees grow amongst vines on Adelaida property.
Oak trees grow amongst vines on Adelaida property.

While the recent rains have caused problems in some spots around San Luis Obispo County, most area wineries are ecstatic about the wet weather.

“Hallelujah!!! A rainy season is upon us!” Epoch Estate Wines wrote on its Facebook page recently, adding that its York Mountain vineyard got 5 inches in just one day on Jan. 4.

The amount and timing of the precipitation couldn’t be more perfect, winemakers and vineyard managers say — the rain is recharging the groundwater basin, helping spur cover crops and watering the vines right at the start of their growing season.

“Having the soil saturated at the beginning of the growing season allows for less irrigation and more canopy growth,” Halter Ranch Vineyard wrote on its blog. Good canopy growth spurs higher yields at harvest.

Las Tablas Creek — which flows under Halter Ranch’s covered bridge, along Adelaida Road and into Lake Nacimiento — is flowing for the first time since 2011, the post states.

“During 2012, 2013, 2014 while the creek did not flow, the springs in the creek still had water on the surface providing seasonal access to animals, but even those dried up completely in 2015 due to the ongoing drought,” the post states, adding that the winery’s vineyards received more than 10 inches of rain between Jan. 3 and 11.

Niner Wine Estates — one of several wineries that uses a rooftop reclamation system to save rainwater for irrigation later in the season — captured more than 265,000 gallons of water from last week’s rain. That’s the most it’s ever collected from a single storm, according to a post on the winery’s Facebook page.

So much rain in such a short time can cause problems in the vineyard, but many wineries took steps over the past year to prepare for the possibility.

Despite forecasts of a dry winter, workers at Adelaida Vineyards and Winery spent the summer digging culverts, laying straw wattles in the vine alleys, creating catch basins and planting a diverse array of cover crops.

“Don’t ask me how he knew, but our ranch manager, Mike Whitener, has been farming here for 50 years, and I take his advice over the so-called experts,” Adelaida winemaker Jeremy Weintraub said. “Our efforts over the summer have redirected water into our aquifer that would otherwise run off the steep hillsides.”

Alta Colina owner and winemaker Bob Tillman said his hilltop vineyard has a few spots susceptible to erosion from heavy rains, but they’ve held up so far thanks to preventive measures.

With 11 inches to date compared with 14.4 inches for the entire past growing season, Tillman said, salt buildup in the soil has been leached away, Alta Colina’s well-water level has risen 25 feet and the pond is completely refilled.

And with more rain forecast through the weekend, area wineries are saying keep it coming.

“Bring it on!” Tillman said.

Sally Buffalo writes about wine, beer and spirits. Reach her at or on Twitter @sallybuffalo.

Tom Nulman, owner of The Bottle Meister, discusses mobile wine bottling during a recent job at Orcutt Road Cellars in San Luis Obispo.

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