Drought declaration underscores state’s water woes...

Gov. Jerry Brown’s declaration Friday of a drought emergency in California does not immediately trigger new restrictions on water use on the North Coast, where officials already have begun asking people to voluntarily cut back their use.

Brown, speaking in San Francisco Friday, said California is in perhaps its worst drought since record-keeping began a century ago.

His proclamation states that drought and water shortage are creating “conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property” in the state. The governor asked Californians to reduce their water usage voluntarily by 20 percent.

“We are in an unprecedented and very serious situation,” Brown said. “It’s important to awaken all Californians to the serious matter of drought and the lack of rain.”

State lawmakers had been urging Brown to issue the declaration, which allows California to request a broad emergency declaration from President Barack Obama. That could expedite some water transfers within the system linking the Central Valley and southern California, provide financial assistance and suspend some state and federal regulations.

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2012 Ryo-fu Chardonnay...

2012 was the “return to normal” vintage in the Russian River Valley, not only for Pinot Noir, but also for Chardonnay. A gorgeous spring promised us a large crop with full clusters of Chardonnay in all three of the vineyards from which Ryo-fu is sourced. The summer and fall followed with perfect weather, and although it ended up being another late harvest all around, the fruit came in wonderfully ripe and healthy.

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Winter in the Cellar...

We had a great weekend of Winter in the Cellar, celebrating Bevill Heirloom Vineyard Zinfandel!

Our grapegrower, Duff Bevill, was on hand to pour barrel samples of the 2011 vintage and describe his vineyard, a unique blend of five heirloom clones. Guests enjoyed the explosive fruit in the 2011 and saavy shoppers bought futures to ensure that they will have Bevill in their cellar.

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Growers, Winemakers Discuss Red Blotch and Quality Concerns...

Concerns about the quality of certified plant material were raised earlier this year at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium when two panels of viticulturists and winemakers said that the best way to ensure the life of a long and healthy vineyard and winery was to do personal testing of all rootstock prior to purchase.

Read the full article from Wine Business Insider

Farmers report challenges hiring help for harvest...

Nearly two-thirds of farmers who responded to a survey by the California Farm
Bureau Federation said they experienced challenges finding enough employees to
tend and harvest crops in 2012. Farm Bureau released the results of the online
survey this week. The survey included responses from nearly 800 Farm Bureau
members about their experience during the harvest season.

Read the full article from AgAlert

Another setback for state’s Russian River frost protection rules...

“With frost season just days away, a Mendocino County judge has issued a second rebuke to the state for its attempt to regulate grape growers who divert water from the Russian River to protect their crops.

Judge Ann Moorman of the Superior Court Wednesday rejected the Environmental Impact Report that was the backbone of the state’s rules that were designed to prevent endangered and threatened fish from becoming stranded and dying when farmers take water from the river to spray on their crops to prevent frost damage.”

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Immigration reform cannot wait...

A recent USDA report shows farmers and ranchers in Oregon and Washington hired more workers and gave them more hours this year than last, even as many fruit producers continued to report labor shortages.

According to a report released last week by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, 103,000 workers were employed on farming operations in Washington and Oregon during the week of Oct. 7-13, an increase of 13,000 workers from last year. The average worker put in 43.7 hours this year, as opposed to 41.4 hours in 2011.

Wages also increased this year, up $1.54 per hour to $13.59.

Nationally, farms and ranches employed 872,000 workers, up 44,000 workers from October 2011. National farm and ranch wages rose 62 cents to $12.04 per hour.

While we are thankful that producers were able to find more workers this year than last, an increase in the average work week and wages suggests that there is still a significant shortage of labor in orchards and packinghouses in the Northwest.

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Just Back From: Sonoma County Grape Camp...

Visiting Sonoma County during grape harvest in late summer and early fall is a prime time to connect with the beauty of this sprawling California Wine Country area (bigger than Rhode Island), the rhythms of agricultural life, the fabulous food, and the passionate professionalism of its grape farmers and winemakers. To go behind the scenes and meet the people who make the wine, I joined 24 people from around the country at Sonoma County Grape Camp for two and a half days of immersion in grape harvesting, winery touring, cooking and wine pairing, and blending.

And yes, tasting: I had the opportunity to sample around 65 pinot noirs, chardonnays, zinfandels, cabernets, sauvignon blancs, and more.

There’s a premium fee for this curated access to wine professionals and outstanding food: $1,850 per person includes accommodations, food, wine, and transportation during camp. Staff, like Nick Frey president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, fielded questions on everything from microclimates in Sonoma’s 15 viticultural areas to organic farming. As for my companions, all appreciated wine and some had cellars, but none was a wine snob. All were enthusiastic about learning—and the opportunity for a unique experience. Indeed, I’ll never drink a glass of wine the same way.

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Grape harvesters rush to beat the rain...

Overnight rain dampening the North Coast and its unpicked grapes won’t dampen the spirits of grape growers, winemakers and winery owners buoyed by what they’re calling the best harvest in years.

About one inch of rain is expected to fall, most of it coming this morning. Tuesday and Wednesday could have showers off and on coupled with cool afternoons and cold mornings.

Grape harvesters probably follow weather forecasts closer than they’re following the Giants playoff games. Everyone with grape skin in the harvesting game knew last week that a cold storm was on the way.

But with the rain forecast bumped up from Tuesday to sometime after midnight Sunday, vineyard managers late last week hustled to add night and Sunday crews to the schedule.

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Court ruling in frost case backs farmers...

In a decision hailed as a victory by agricultural water users, a Mendocino County Superior Court judge has ruled that the state overstepped its bounds in trying to impose severely restrictive regulations on the use of sprinkler irrigation to protect vines from springtime frost.

Judge Ann Moorman ruled in late September that new frost protection regulations imposed by the State Water Resources Control Board are unconstitutional. Specifically, she ruled the board exceeded its authority by adopting regulations that failed to follow the appropriate process to determine “unreasonableness”; that the regulations were too broad because they included all classes of water rights holders; that they failed to provide for the rule of priority; that the board improperly delegated authority; and that the action was not supported by substantial evidence in the record.

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