The Charles family, Bill and Nancy Charles and their daughter and son-in-law Kristy Charles and Joe Webb, with two other important members of the wine-making team.
The Charles family has been working a piece of land in the lovely Anderson Valley of California for generations. But in 2006, Bill and Nancy Charles, along with their daughter and son-in-law, Kristy Charles and Joe Webb, opened Foursight Wines and began to produce small lots of estate-grown Pinot Noir, Semillon, and Sauvignon Blanc.
The Anderson Valley has crazy temperature swings, but those extremes are often pleasingly moderated by fog.
The Anderson Valley, just outside of Boonville and just west of the famed Napa Valley, is one of the most unique wine-producing areas in the world. Growers there work with some of best—and some of the most extreme—weather conditions in the wine-making world. It's cool and coastal with the long sunny days of California summers, but it is also a long, narrow valley that channels whipping winds. It also has crazy temperature swings, which can be very good—or very bad—for wine grapes. The valley is known for the highest diurnal temperature swings in the wine-growing world. Joe, who is Foursight's winemaker and President of the Anderson Valley Wine Association, has recorded a 62-degree swing in one day, going from 107°F (42°C) in the afternoon to 45°F (7°C) that night. This is actually a very good thing, he told us. The extreme swings in temperature add to the quality of the grapes. Daytime highs provide a richness and fullness of the flavor to the fruit, while night time cool weather keeps the acidity of the grapes high—very good for premium wine grapes. But low temps can also lead to crop loss. Then there's the wind. The winds change direction and speed on a daily basis. Warmer, drier winds zip out of the southeast to dehydrate the air, while cool winds bring in moisture from the northeast.
How could the growers cope with wind and temperature changes that vary more than any wine growing region in the world?
For the first few years, the weather sometimes won the battle. The first year's production amounted to about 400 cases of Pinot Noir. Not bad, but the Charles's knew they could do better. While each year was better than the last, the weather continued to be both their greatest asset and their greatest nemesis.
In 2008, the weather was particularly devious and Foursight Wines lost nearly half their crop to an early spring frost. It was clear that the only way they would end this battle with the elements would be to know their enemy! They knew they needed weather stations in each vineyard. However, the 15 acres that was hit hardest by the frost is over half a mile from the winery. How could they track weather conditions 24/7 in remote vineyards?
That's when Vantage Connect and Vantage Pro2 came to the rescue! The Charles family now tracks conditions in all their vineyards, including the two most remote areas, on their tablets and smartphones. When temperatures drop to near 30°F (0°C), Vantage Connect sends text messages so the growers can turn on overhead sprinklers to raise the temperature to avert frost damage. They can see when a temperature inversion is putting a virtual lid on their vineyard and can turn on fans to mix the air. They can track growing degree days to help determine when the fruit is ready for harvest. And the best part is that they can see these weather events from the comfort of the winery, their bedrooms, or even from their vacations in Lake Tahoe or Hawaii.
This year Foursight Wines hopes to meet its goal of 1500 cases of sublime wine, glowing with a uniqueness that could only come from grapes grown in this special valley. While Mother Nature will never bow to our human authority, Vantage Connect and Vantage Pro2 has let the Charles family make her a true partner in the process.
You can check out the weather at Foursight Wines on their WeatherLink.com page.
This was featured in our October 2015 newsletter.