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Medlock Ames
 
June 29, 2022 | Medlock Ames

Fire and Water: Fundamental Elements for Sustainability

 

June is one of my favorite times of the year when spring turns to summer and we enjoy the longest days of the year. Those extra minutes of sunshine are what help our grapes develop their flavors. June is always when we gather among the vines for our annual Dinner in the Vineyard which we just held, celebrating our 20th anniversary. This event is one of the most magical nights of the year, but this year was a bit of a surprise as we had a freak and brief rainstorm as we sat down to eat. While we had some covering, those who attended snuggled close together while rain dripped on the table, with everyone bonding while the wine flowed.

In my 25 years at Bell Mountain, I don’t think it’s ever rained in June, and I was thrilled for the extra water to fill our ponds and give our dry soil one last drink of water. We don’t expect to see rain again until November. This strange rain event was a reminder that while long summer days bring on joy and relaxation, there is always a lingering worry in my mind about our annual fire season and how precious the water we do have at Bell Mountain is to us.

Water and fire go hand in hand in my mind and are critical to our operations which is why we’ve dedicated two of our six Pillars of Sustainability to addressing these challenges. In April we talked about our goals of eliminating our carbon footprint and enhancing the biodiversity of our farm. Now we want to share our goals surrounding fire and water.

PILLAR 3: REDUCING OUR WATER DEPENDENCY

We have abundant water resources here at Bell Mountain. Our ranch comprises a large watershed that allows us to fill our five ponds with the first few rains. We have a plentiful aquifer that feeds three wells. But this water supply is not infinite, and we want to ensure that it remains for generations especially as we are in a historic 1,000-year drought which we seem to feel most deeply in the past few years. This year we’ve only had 85% of our average rainfall. Last year we only had a third of our average. And in 2020 we had half. This compounding shortage is alarming.

We’ve set a lofty goal of reducing our dependency on the estimated eight million gallons of water we use for our farming and winemaking operations by 40% annually. These are BIG numbers, but we are all in to ensure our wells don’t run dry and our ponds remain full to encourage the diverse ecosystem they support. How are we going to cut down on so much water usage, you ask? Well let’s break down where the water is being used as knowing that makes the solution clearer:

  • Irrigating our vines to ensure that water gets to those roots, especially during the hot summer growing season continues to drain our ponds. Installing data-driven water monitoring for vineyard irrigation will allow us to make each drop of water count. We will get the right amount of water to each vine and cut our water usage by 10%.
  • Frost protection through overhead sprinklers is one of our biggest usages of water, especially this year when we’ve had historically cold nights in May. We typically turn on our frost sprinklers twice per year. This year we’ve had to turn them on 10 times. By converting to wind-based frost protections which involves using massive fans in the vineyard to circulate the warmer air, we can save more than one million gallons of water a year. Side benefit: wind machines use a fraction of the energy of sprinkler systems.
  • Lastly, the regenerative farming techniques that we are implementing allow our soil to hold on to more water. Every 1% increase in organic matter allows us to store an additional 25,000 gallons of water per acre in the soil, which greatly reduces our need to irrigate.

PILLAR 4: CREATING A FIRE RESILIENT ECOSYSTEM

Our most important responsibility as an organization is to keep our people safe. Our next most important responsibility is to protect the land and environment that supports us. Although fire is a natural part of our ecology, it poses a threat to our people and land, and after suffering the effects of the Kincade Fire in 2019, we feel the responsibility to protect our people and land even more acutely. We have identified several steps to make our ranch better adapted to fire if (or more likely when) it returns, and we are implementing these now:

  • Remove burned trees that create hazards for humans and animals, making way for living trees to thrive.
  • Conduct controlled burns to keep brush regrowth low and allow the wildflowers to rejuvenate.
  • Bring back our beloved sheep and cattle to graze Bell Mountain and keep our weeds low.
  • Drive greater communication on fire prevention with our neighbors through roundtable discussions and community support groups.

I recognize that water and fire aren’t the most glamorous parts of the wine experience, but each year, I’m reminded that these fundamental elements need to be cared for and managed carefully so we can ensure the sustainability of Bell Mountain Vineyards for decades to come. So, let’s all raise a glass to a safe summer and bountiful harvest.

Warm regards,

Ames Morison
Co-Founder, Medlock Ames Winery 


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