The SOMM Journal

April / May 2016

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Page 103 of 108

{ }  103 IN EARLY MARCH, at ADELAIDA Cellars in Paso Robles, a jolly group of sommeliers from the Midwest emerged from the tasting room, their big smiles punctuated with purple teeth. Awaiting an Uber, they soaked in the late afternoon sun and gazed at the swaying bright yellow mustard flowers draping the hillside. "Enjoy it now. Rain's com - ing," one of the somms said. "God knows they need it. I sure hope they get some." In a vineyard a few hills over, facing a fifth straight year of drought, ADELAIDA's Winemaker Jeremy Weintraub wasn't hoping. He was taking action. Hope, after all, won't bring storm clouds or help produc - ers continue to churn out the world-class Cabernet Sauvignon that has made Paso famous and put Napa on notice. Refusing to let weather alone decide the winery's fate, Weintraub is arming ADELAIDA's vineyards with new evaporation monitors recently developed by Tule, a California-based startup. The devices measure the water escaping from the vineyard to help pinpoint the thirstiest vines. "Thirsty vines make great wine, but to a point. Plants need some water," says Weintraub. "Every drop is precious. So we're using every tool we can to make sure we're only watering where and when we need to." Much like the self-reliant, do-or-die cowboys who first tamed this unforgiving coastal hill country, Paso's top Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-style wineries have, for several vintages now, outsmarted the drought with innovation, creativity and grit. Using the latest technology, questioning long-held farming practices and swapping strategies with neighbors, Paso has managed to loosen Mother Nature's grip on its vineyards. Aggressively adapting to this new reality has led to a bonus no one could have predicted. The collective effort to wean vineyards off water not only is ensuring the region's future, but the already high-quality wines of Paso are also improving. FRESH EYES Again, Paso is entering its fifth year of acute drought. In 2015, the region's main weather station saw only 6.98 inches of rainfall—nearly half of the scary-low annual average of 12.85 inches. Yet, demand for Paso's Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-style wines is up, scores are steadily rising and more talented wine pros are flocking to the region. "It's like the drought challenge is making everyone better," says Sterling Kragten, Winemaker at Cass Vineyard & Winery. "Solving this problem forces you to look at everything with fresh eyes. In finding ways to cut back on water, you end up finding other opportunities to improve and innovate beyond water efficiency." Leading this no-rain renaissance are the members of the Paso Robles CAB Collective, a group made up of ADELAIDA, Cass and the region's other top Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-style producers. Founded in 2012, the CAB (Cabernet and Bordeaux) Collective actively promotes its members and fosters knowledge sharing beyond fence-line chats to ensure wine quality continues to advance. At Cass, the ranch team recently turned their atten - tion to cover crop—the stuff that grows between the vine rows. Cover crops can help with a host of issues like controlling erosion and reducing the need for pesticides. At most vineyards, once a cover crop is successfully established, it often becomes a mere maintenance program, dropping low on the list of where to spend resources. PHOTO: BRITTANY APP PHOTO COURTESY OF ANCIENT PEAKS WINERY PHOTO COURTESY OF ADELAIDA CELLARS Winemaker Mike Sinor collecting Ancient Peaks Winery's sustain- able Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet Cowboy: Jeremy Weintraub, winemaker at ADELAIDA Cellars in Paso Robles. Paso CAB Collective producers like DAOU Vineyards, pictured, are leading Paso's no-rain renaissance. PHOTO COURTESY OF DAOU VINEYARDS

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