As California heads into its third dry year in a row, scarce water resources are no longer a quiet challenge to the wine industry. Though attempts were made to regulate water for frost protection on the North Coast, they were eventually shot down. Now the State Water Board is working with growers who agree to voluntarily adopt the regulations, deciding whether to use sprinklers for frost protection in the spring, or save their allocations for irrigation should there be a late summer heat spike.
Meanwhile, growers in the arid eastside of Paso Robles had relied on the region’s vast underground aquifer to sustain their vines—until the wells began to run dry this past summer.
Gilian Handelman called me with the news. “Have you heard about what’s happening in Paso?” she asked, and sent along more than a dozen links to articles on the battles over water rights. Now Director of Education at Jackson Family Farms, Handelman had been Marketing Director at Wine & Spirits in the early years of the new millennium, when she established the W&S Top 100 event and our sponsorship of San Francisco Baykeeper, the watchdog for the Bay Area watershed which includes so much of the North Coast wine country.
After speaking with Handelman about the news reports, I called David Darlington. His association with Paso Robles goes back to his first book, In Condor Country (1987), which considered earlier battles over the ecological destiny of San Luis Obispo County. Darlington started interviewing the players in the midst of a charged political drama, visiting with leaders of the groups representing homeowners, others representing grape growers and others representing only themselves and their wines as they work to find alternatives to irrigation. We’re excited to present his story on Paso Robles, as the region has become a flash point in the looming water battles of the West.
We’re also excited to publish Tara Q. Thomas’s perspective on sake and umami, as it may well change the way you think about texture in wine, food and water. Thomas recently returned from Kyoto, where she’d visited with sake brewers and chefs, researching the role of glutamates in Japanese cuisine and their interaction with sake and grape-based wines. Her story gave me a new understanding of sake and left me hungry to learn more, specifically, how umami in other Asian cuisine impacts the local approach to wine. In my personal experience, Chinese wine critics often share this focus on texture and perceive that aspect of wine differently than many American or European critics. It makes me wonder how umami in the Chinese diet plays into their approach to wine. And then there are the Australians with their Vegemite…
Look for more on umami in the months to come. Meanwhile, settle in with some of the great Rhônes and zinfandels, Priorats and new artisan wines from Chile you’ll find in our pages for drinking this winter.
This story appears in the print issue of February 2014.
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