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Friday, July 18, 2014
July 18, 2014 | 4:13 PM

Veraison has started at Iron Horse Vineyards in Sebastopol, California:

Thursday, July 17, 2014
by Cyril Penn | July 17, 2014 | 5:00 PM

With the latest drought in California in its third year, we're being barraged with headlines about water. It's enough to make one's eyes glaze over. There's seemingly several articles to read every day, from the effects on employment in the Central Valley, to debates on the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan and more.

The State Water Resources Control Board just adopted drought regulations giving local agencies the authority to fine water wasters up to $500 a day. One article quoted San Francisco officials saying they are concerned a ban on washing streets and sidewalks could put a damper on sending out city trucks to spray away the filth downtown.

Today's news even included Lady Gaga joining California’s water conservation campaign.

Well, beyond those headlines there's much more at work here, and it should concern all farmers, including the farmers that grow grapes for making wine. It's getting serious.

The next shoe to drop is groundwater.

California is the only western state that doesn’t already regulate groundwater.

  • This week, a California court issued a ruling requiring regulation of groundwater pumping to protect California's Scott River in Siskiyou County. It's the first time a court has ruled that the "public trust doctrine" holding that the state controls waterways for the benefit of the people - applies to groundwater. The Sacramento Superior Court ruling came after a group led by the Environmental Law Foundation filed suit against the State Water Resources Control Board, claiming groundwater pumping in the Scott River Basin is partly responsible for decreased river flows that are harming the river and fish habitat. The plaintiffs argued that when groundwater pumping affects surface waters, the state needs to regulate.
  • In another precedent-setting case -- ‘Light v. State Water Resources Control Board’ -- a California appeals court ruled last month that the water board can curtail use even by senior rights holders when wildlife habitat is threatened. The court upheld the Water Board's authority to weigh competing beneficial uses - another case where the use of the public trust doctrine to regulate water use appears to have been expanded. For a summary of the case, see this article
  • What's more, the California Water Board last month issued a Notice of Proposed Emergency Rulemaking, where it claims to have the power to issue curtailment notices as part of a drought emergency – even for senior rights holders. Some are calling this notice a shot across the bow - part of a choreographed plan by the state to take control of the water situation. Many are concerned about the state’s intentions and are concerned the power grab could extend to groundwater.
  • Two professors with The University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources issued a report this week calling attention to the stress being placed on California's aquifers and the consequences of not having groundwater available in future droughts. The report called for more state regulation of groundwater in addition to creating a system of groundwater banking, among other things.
  • That prompted California Assembly member Roger Dickinson to issue a news release today saying the study underscores the need to regulate groundwater. Dickinson recently introduced AB 1739 to address groundwater sustainability. Another piece of legislation, SB 1168, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, was introduced by California Senator Fran Pavley.
  • Another bill, AB 2453, introduced by Assembly Member Achadjian a couple months back, is specific to Paso Robles, where it would create a Paso Robles Basin Water District to regulate groundwater.

Out in the Central Valley, where curtailments are in effect, the water situation has escalated to a point where many commodities are affected. Citrus trees are getting pulled out because of the lack of water on the west side of Fresno and into Tulare County. There are situations where grape vines are being minimally farmed in Fresno County, just being watered to be kept alive. Wells are going dry amid competition to get pump companies that are available on a timely basis. Some farmers will go broke. There are reports that some vines are damaged, with growth delayed because they didn’t get enough water last season. Nevertheless, the jury is still out on what the cumulative effect will be for the short- and long-term.

California is pumping more water from the ground than is being recharged. This situation is called overdraft and it isn't sustainable. Some sub-districts in particular are not recovering annually. That's not new news, though. I'm reminded of an article we published in WBM way back in 2008, "The End of Cheap, Plentiful Water.”

As one might imagine, agricultural interests are watching these lastest developments – particularly the potential expansion of the water board’s authority – very closely. Many are concerned about the state’s intentions on groundwater legislation because groundwater use is tantamount to a property right.

The California Wine Institute does not take a specific position on groundwater management, though informally supports the concept of local affected parties managing their own groundwater – along the broad philosophical lines of what has been proposed for Paso Robles.

The California Association of Winegrape Growers will consider a detailed position on groundwater regulation – a set of policy principles - at a board meeting next week.

I asked CAWG President Jon Aguirre, "Is groundwater regulation in California inevitable?"

“I think it’s inevitable that there will be a different regulatory climate,” he replied.


Friday, July 11, 2014
July 11, 2014 | 9:49 AM

via Free The Grapes!

· May 16, 2005: The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Granholm v. Heald that Michigan’s and New York’s discriminatory bans on interstate wine shipments are unconstitutional. MA has a similar regulatory arrangement.

· November 21, 2005: Governor Mitt Romney vetoes MA House Bill 4498, which prohibits winery-to-consumer shipping if the winery has been represented by a Massachusetts wholesaler within the last six months, or if the winery produces more than 30,000 gallons of wine a year.

· Spring 2006: The veto on HB 4498 is overridden and becomes state law.

· September 18, 2006: Family Winemakers of California vs. Jenkins is filed, stating that current Massachusetts law violates the nondiscrimination principle of the Commerce Clause.

· November 19, 2008: Judge Rya Zobel rules in favor of Family Winemakers of California vs. Jenkins, and later, enjoins the state from enforcing the law on December 18, 2008.

· January 14, 2010: The 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upholds Judge Rya Zobel’s ruling.

· 2011-2012: House Bill 1029 is introduced to reconcile the current statute and Judge Zobel’s ruling, but dies in committee in 2012.

· January 18, 2013: House Bill 294, authored by Rep. Theodore (Ted) C. Speliotis, is introduced to allow wine direct shipping.

· March 21, 2013: Former New England Patriots quarterback, and now Washington vintner, Drew Bledsoe, blitzes Boston in support of wine direct shipping.

· June 30, 2014: House and Senate sign conference committee’s budget to Governor, including language similar to HB 294.

Thursday, July 10, 2014
July 10, 2014 | 9:57 AM released a report detailing wine job posting trends as of June 2014. As the wine industry’s leading online job site, has a unique vantage point over industry trends. The index indicates that job postings increased 34 percent from June 2013. The index is up 17 percent so far this year.

The June increase in job postings was driven by winemaking and tasting room/hospitality jobs. The winemaking job index rose 41 percent from its level in June 2013, and is up 28 percent year-to-date.

The hospitality index increased 57 percent from its level in June 2013, and is up 20 percent for the year.

The sales and marketing index decreased 18 percent from its level in June 2013, and is flat year-to-date.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014
July 9, 2014 | 11:07 AM

Wilbur-Ellis is circulating a letter asking growers concerned they may have been affected by the recent drift incident in the Lodi area to contact them. As previously reported Wilbur-Ellis recommended and sold chemicals to Semitropic Water Storage District to remove vegetation from Bouldin Island. The letter says Semitropic contracted with Alpine Helicopter to conduct the application.

“We were not connected to the circumstances surrounding the aerial application – quantities, weather conditions, sprayers used, etc,” reads the letter. “Nonetheless, we do want to support the collection and monitoring of data regarding impact with the goal of working together toward a successful harvest."

Growers were asked to contact an investigating agronomist via 844-252-4640

Thursday, July 3, 2014
by Cyril Penn | July 3, 2014 | 2:30 PM

Growers in the Lodi area and in Solano County continue to assess potential damage resulting from an unprecedented pesticide drift incident that occurred in late May when a mixture of pesticides were sprayed in an attempt to eliminate weeds on Bouldin Island in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Amid reports that the drift caused damage in vineyards 35 miles or more, apart, thousands of acres of grapes could potentially be affected from the aerial spraying, but growers are evaluating the situation. They’re trying to determine if they’ve been affected, what the effects are, and where to go from there.

While vine growth is an issue, the big question is whether residue from these pesticides – even in minute amounts - will show up in grapes. That’s because the pesticides are not approved for use in grapes: any wine produced from contaminated grapes would be unfit for sale. The pesticides at issue also don’t have maximum limits established for export countries, so residue in grapes would mean any wines made with them could not be shipped globally.

Acting San Joaquin County agriculture commissioner Gary Caseri said his department is investigating, coordinating with the department of pesticide regulation, and hopes to issue a report sometime in July. “We want to find out the full extent and reach of what happened,” Caseri said.

The incident occurred after Wilbur-Ellis, an international distributor of agricultural products, animal feed and specialty chemicals, recommended an application of chemicals, reportedly for Delta Wetlands Properties, a private water investment company that owns Bouldin Island. The chemicals were applied in an effort to eliminate vegetation so the island could be flooded.

Sandra Gharib, a spokeswoman for Wilbur-Ellis, said via email that the company was engaged by the Semitropic Water Storage District to eradicate vegetation from Bouldin Island.

In response to our customer’s request, we recommended two herbicides (Roundup Custom and Polaris SP), a surfactant, a modified seed oil, and a drift control agent. Polaris SP was included in the mix because it is effective against the type of vegetation found on the island.

Wilbur-Ellis sold the products to the grower, and the application was performed in May by an aerial applicator hired by the grower; Wilbur-Ellis was not involved in the application and does not have any information about it.”

Wilbur-Ellis supplied product to the grower but we were not involved in the application. We don’t have many facts from the grower on the application, and we are not in a position to know what mistakes may have been made during the application.

The matter is still under investigation by the San Joaquin County Ag Commissioner, and Wilbur-Ellis has undertaken its own investigation, but neither the County nor Wilbur-Ellis have reached any conclusions so we are not yet in a position to comment on what further actions we may take.

A June 10 letter issued by the company provides the following information:

Dear Customer:

We wanted to provide you with the information we have on the recent drift issues in the area around Lodi, California. We know many of you are concerned about the effects on your crops and while we don’t have all the facts yet, here is what we do know.

On May 7, 2014, Wilbur-Ellis recommended an application of Roundup Custom, Polaris SP, In-Place, Cayuse, and Hasten to non-crop areas in San Joaquin and Contra Costa Counties. The producers were applied during the period May 16-20 (edited via hand to read May 15-28) by a third party applicator engaged by the owner of the target filed. We understand that some of these chemicals may have drifted east and north of the target fields, onto crops for which they may not be labeled.

The County is leading the investigation of this incident. In an attempt to determine what crops have been affected and what damage has been done, Wilbur-Ellis is conducting its own investigation. Although some effects have been identified, we do not yet know what real damage has occurred and it may take some time for this data to emerge. Any grower who believes their crops have been affected should report the damage to the County Ag Commissioner’s office, so that responses can be coordinated.

If we determine that Wilbur Ellis has made any mistakes, we will correct them; Wilbur-Ellis stands behind its actions. Even if this does not prove to be the case, we are cooperating with our customers and other third parties to determine how best to proceed and we will try to update you as events warrant.


“This is a bigger problem than people realize,” Bronco Wine Company chief executive Fred Franzia said. “It could be potentially devastating in the Lodi area. People can tell you, 'Fred has an axe to grind because he’s got inventory,' but I don’t think people are realizing the ramifications of this thing.”

Early Reports of Damage, Residue in Vineyards
Damage varies considerably, according to one Lodi-based vineyard manager, but at the moment is affecting the external leaves and shoot tips in the canopy. Some growers think that at current damage levels, there should not be much of a quality impact. Other growers have already conducted testing with third-party labs, with samples turning up traces of Imazapyr and Glyphosate.

At least one Lodi-based crop consultant is seeing newer shoot growth now pushing secondary leaves, which is abnormal for this time of year. 

The consultant says the damage is extensive and that he’s advising all accounts experiencing symptoms to file loss of crop claim forms with the county and to seek legal counsel to plan for the worst case scenario while hoping for a positive outcome. He says secondary leaf growth in the vineyards may translate to potentially less fruitfulness next year or could delay maturity this year, but that it’s a huge unknown, though there are reports that Polaris may cycle out of plants in 60 days.

A senior vineyard manager with a large California wine company active in Lodi said he isn’t sure the incident will ultimately have long term implications, except in newly planted vineyards. “The information that is starting to filter back is that while it’s stunted in some vineyards, particularly young vineyards, established vineyards are not showing any Polaris residues, there may be some Glyphosate (roundup) residue, but that could be from a number of sources,” he said. “My opinion is this will come and go. What is going to happen is interested wineries will form an analytical group to sample and evaluate fruit between now and harvest looking for residues. They will be proactive. That in combination with the work Wilbur-Ellis is doing, should, provide pretty good direction prior to harvest."

“We know that there is damage,” Rachel Ashly, vice president for grape resources with Treasury Wine Estates said. “We don’t own any vineyards in the region but are working with our growers to monitor this.”

“Most growers don’t want to look for it, they want to pretend it’s not on their vineyards,” Franzia said. “We’re going to look at every vineyard to make sure we’ve got grapes that aren’t contaminated.”

Hoping This Doesn’t Get Blown Out of Proportion

Typical was a comment from Lodi Winegrape Commission Executive Director Cameron King, who said, “The region is really concerned about not raising or elevating the story.”

“The individual growers are trying to keep this a little under wraps, and rightfully so, until we know something,” Steve Dorfman, a partner with the Ciatti Company, a brokerage firm for bulk wine and grapes, said. “Nobody is really aware what the overall impacts will be because this is not a product that was ever used on grapevines.”

While there was a recent incident in Oregon, nobody contacted for this report could recall a drift situation of this size affecting California vineyards.

Dorfman pointed out that incidents such as this can often get blown out of proportion – and that perception can become reality. He recalled the situation that occurred in 1989 after 60 Minutes reported on Alar, a coating that was used on some apples. The apple industry was decimated.

Similarly, a television report that aired in Sweden last December (link to replay with English subtitles) sensationalized the issue of "chemical residues" in wine. Sales of the largest wine brands mentioned in that report are still recovering.

“Perception is reality and we have to be very careful what comes of this until we know,” Dorfman said.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014
July 2, 2014 | 1:35 PM

We received this report and the photos from Alex Gambal, a wine producer we know in Beaune. He sent us the following about the hail damage that occurred in Burgundy on June 28.

1. As usual vines planted north/south fared far better than east/west; i.e. the south facing side were in some cases shredded.

2. It could have been worse although Pommard to the north and Beaune to the south we especially hard hit. As much as 50-80% again.

3. A grower in Volnay told me yesterday that his 1er Cru Taillepieds, Carelle etc were in the 20-25% loss range.

4. Our Bourgogne Pinot, Les Petits Pres and Long Bois at the base of Volnay were hit hard again; at least 50% to as much as 70%. Across the road and a bit farther in the plain we fared ok.

5. The whites on the north side of Meursault were hurt but I do not have firm numbers. As you move south there was damage but it was less and less as you moved south.

6. Our various Pulignys, Batard and Chassagnes were hit but the damage was limited to the south side of the rows and maxi 10% damage.

7. The Cote de Nuits was also hit and heard on Sunday in the 15-20% range from Vosne, Echezeaux, RSV, Cl,os Vougeot, Musigny, some Chambolle with the storm ending at Morey. From Morey north there was nothing.

8. Photos taken ~ 16:50-17:20 28/6/2014 in Meursault.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014
July 1, 2014 | 3:56 PM

A wild fire in Napa County that started today at noon has burned 600 acres and led to mandatory evacuations in the Pope Valley.

Kerana Todorov (@NVRkerana) tweeted: #BerryessaEstates are being evacuated because of Butts Canyon fire.

Below is a photo of the fire taken from Charles Krug winery.

See more here.

July 1, 2014 | 9:43 AM

Wine Business Monthly's July 2014 digital edition is now available.

Inside July 2014 you will find:

Using Technology to Tell Your Story
The Case for Organic Grape Growing
Checklist: Preparing a Lab for Harvest

Subscribe to WBM

Monday, June 30, 2014
June 30, 2014 | 2:07 PM

Brandon Sywassink of Manna Ranch in Lodi posted a couple of harvest photos today. "Pretty sure I can say that #mannaranch has picked the first load of grapes in #lodi for the 2014 season," he wrote on Instagram. Sywassink said they are harvesting the grapes for a customer who wants sour juice. The grapes are green, but they aren't harvesting white grapes—that is a load of Petite Sirah!


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