Did you know that this weekend is Pinot Weekend in Anderson Valley? Purple banners strung out along 128 heralded the event, and it was promoted on their website where we learned that huge swaths of the valley floor have been converted to grapes.
In this picture, for example, we see that the grapes they chose to plant on the Valley floor are subject to “fog and frost,” which means they planted their grapes knowing they’d have to either dump huge amounts of frost protection water on their vines, or, if there’s not enough water, keep everyone awake on cold nights with helicopter size wind fans.
During the on-line Anderson Valley Wines “master class,” former Greenwood Ridge owner Alan Green admitted, “We are the coolest wine-growing region in California.” (Green’s Greenwood Ridge Winery was sold to the scofflaw Wilson Family out of Santa Rosa a few years ago.)
Then we get a very misleading chart about how many acres are “under vine” and the “average vineyard size.”
They claim that Anderson Valley is almost 58,000 acres while “only” about 2500 acres are “under vine.” A more realistic calculation would be how much of the much smaller valley floor is “under vine,” because much of that 58,000 acres is timber and other unsuitable non-ag land.
A more realistic “average” would note how many of those 2500 acres are in the hands of the big five: Roederer, Goldeneye, Kendall Jackson, Ken Wilson, Ted “My grapes are more important than your sleep” Bennett and their collected contracted (supplier) vineyards. And what percentage of those are organic.
Another interesting percentage would be how much acreage is dry farmed. (Hint: Not much.)
If the standard 80-20 rules applies, as it probably does, then 80% of the acreage is owned by 20% of the vineyards companies. So 80% of 2500 is 2000 and 20% of 90 is 18. Therefore probably 15-20 large companies own vineyards that average several hundred acres each.
Then we’re told that the entire valley floor is peppered with tourist-friendly wineries and tasting rooms.
Here’s another average: It’s about 12 miles from Pennyroyal on the south end of Boonville to Lula at the foot of the Holmes Ranch at Navarro, and there are (at least) 23 tasting rooms, for an average of a tasting room approximately every half-mile.
Alan Green, who founded the festival before selling to Wilson and retiring, also said that most of the plantable acres in Anderson Valley already have grapes. Which kinda undermines the 2500 acres out of 58,000 argument. Yet in answer to an on-line question, local wine writer Thom Elkjer contradicted Green, saying, “There’s no restriction from any political authority that would limit us.” However, this in turn was contradicted by Green who said “You can’t just clearcut the forest to plant grapes anymore.”
We agree with Elkjer: “There’s no restriction…”
Twenty-five years ago when Anderson Valley had about 1200 acres “under vine,” local vineyard manager Steve Tylicki said the same thing. “This is it,” Tylicki told us. “There's no more room for more vineyard.”
Since you can scrape every bit of life off a hill like V.Sattui just did on the east side of Highway 128, then the number of acres “under vine” will continue to increase because there are no rules, no limits and no requirements besides geography, money, and, maybe, water.
PS. Also on their website, the local wine people say, “We are grateful for the relationships we cultivate with our choice partners that have become part of our community. These individuals and businesses operate with integrity and provide us with a foundation to do our important work.”
Most of the “choice partners” are in it for the wine money, of course: Suppliers, vendors, admin, vineyard management outfits, etc. But we were somewhat surprised to see Mendocino County Public Radio KZYX listed as a “choice partner.” We knew the “public radio” station has always been cozy with the local wine industry, but we didn’t know it was an official “partner.”
PPS. When we looked up frost protection on line we found this quote by Ann Kraemer, who is a “master vineyard manager” for Yorba Wines in Amador County where they also experience cold night-time temperatures. Kraemer has a different way of dealing with frost: “The longer we can delay pruning the longer we can delay bud break,” said Kraemer, “giving us added protection against frost. We don’t use frost protection, just good old Mother Nature. Cold air runs downhill like water, so at the low spots we don’t plant vines.”