By Molly Dow, Viticulturist
It can take some time for the typical winter weather to arrive here on the Central Coast, but we welcomed it with open arms in early December. A series of storms ripped through Paso Robles and after receiving 4.85 inches of rain and 20mph winds – we are reminded that winter does exist in California and how incredibly important it is for our vineyards. Now is the time for our grapevines to go dormant, or “shut-down” if you will. Grapevines are annual deciduous plants that require cold weather or even below-freezing temperatures to transition the plant from an active to an inactive state. Prior to the grapevine’s dormancy, the plant conserves energy and begins storing carbohydrates in its root system which will then be used for new growth the following spring.
Currently, the grapevine leaves are transitioning from those luscious autumn colors, with many already going ‘Full Monty’! As our vines go dormant, our focus turns, keeping a close eye on what’s sprouting next: our cover crop! The season never stops when you’re a farmer. Yes our priority is tend to the vines and grow incredible fruit but these beautiful ‘green carpets’ growing down our vine rows and avenues share an equally important role to the vineyards’ health and success. Our cover crop, which is drill-seeded down the vine row, is sprouting and right on schedule. Due to our proximity to the ocean, we typically receive the majority of the coastal weather influence and storms, often doubling or tripling our annual rainfall totals in comparison to the City of Paso Robles, just 13 miles east. A mix of dwarf barley, oats and bell beans each have a particular purpose in our cover crop program. We depend on their growth to aid as a form of erosion control throughout our vineyards as well as acting as a buffer strip to protect our creeks. Come springtime, we will disc the tall cover crop back into the soil and use this as a green manure-like-compost. In our case, the cover crop we grow becomes the only nitrogen input the vines see for the year. So the next time you visit us or take one of our tours, watch where you step! That’s no ordinary landscaping, that’s our cover crop! Take a closer look at the different leaf blade shapes and see if can remember which is which!