Jason Joyce
 
March 23, 2012 | The Vineyard, Wine Opinions | Jason Joyce

Unrequited Hope?

      Replace "new phonebook" with "active MJO" and this was basically me earlier today. Which leads to the obvious question, "What's the active MJO, and why is some jerk winemaker yelling about it." Well, it is all due to the fact that the most important aspect to wine is weather. Regardless of what tricks we have learned during human agricultural history, nature still has the first and last say.

      I feel it is important to remind ourselves that making wine, at its heart, is simply an agricultural process. We often get away from this perspective due to the strange cultural significance that wine has taken in the modern world. Somehow growing wine grapes, and recently, organic heirloom vegetables, has become "sexy" to the point that it is viewed differently than growing corn or soybeans. For this reason you don't see as many millionaires retiring to start farming cotton for example, in order to return to a simpler or more natural life. Don't fall prey to this thinking. Despite all the flowery language, sales PR, and talk of esoteric viticultural processes, wine making IS grape farming, no more, no less. Wine though does have a unique way of making the relationship between nature and consumption crystal clear. The ultimate goal of wine making is to allow one to taste and interact with the time and place of creation. The idea of the vintage is rooted in this, that the year is as important as the place or varietal in conveying what lies inside the bottle.

      With this in mind, I obsess over the weather endlessly. It dictates to me all the decisions I will make during the annual cycle of the vineyard and winery. Luckily, my obsession with weather pre-dates my time as a winemaker. Living on the Pacific coast, I started checking weather on a daily basis as it determined my plans for surfing. What is special about surfing and weather is that it is dependant upon two forms, the local and the global. The waves that cause one to skip morning class during college are not generated locally, but thousands of miles away. Off the coast of Japan and Russia during Fall and Winter, and way down by New Zealand and the Antarctic Pacific for Spring and Summer. You can't look outside and know that a good swell is coming, you have to do some research to be ready.

     This research is what introduced me to the Madden-Julian Oscillation. All this winter the MJO has been in the "inactive" phase. This has been distressing for California farmers, surfers, and skiers. The heart of winter, January-Feburary, was basically one long sunny spring. Temperatures in the 60's and 70's, and never a cloud. While this made it nice to be outdoors hiking and biking, it was terrible for things like water tables, snow pack, and thirsty roots. Then last week came a rather substantial storm, and something felt different. After data analysis, the hopeful news was delivered by the web's greatest weather site Stormsurf:

      Current wind analysis indicated modest easterly anomalies were all east of the dateline now (a good thing) extending from 140W to the dateline (180W) and continuing to loose ground. The coverage of these winds shifted east and was fading. Westerly anomalies were strong in the Indian Ocean pushing east to 160E and building more directly over the equator rather than displaced south. It looks like the Inactive Phase of the MJO was loosing control of the West Pacific. A week from now (3/29) the pattern is to continue with a weakening area of weak easterly anomalies hovering between 180W and 160E but nowhere else and with solid westerly anomalies building from the Indian Ocean to 160E and making easterly headway. This indicates that the Inactive Phase of the MJO is to be effectively gone by then with the Active Phase starting to take control of the West Pacific.

      If that is not music to your grape growing ears, well, I don't know what to tell you. This is leading to hope that maybe some late season storms will produce water for our thirsty state. The vines are just about to start budding and the roots will start pumping water, making for some possible perfect timing. Spring is well underway though, which usually means a wall of high pressure that keeps California sunny from May to November. But that little bit of weather nerdery I read this morning got me in a solid Lloyd Christmas state of mind

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