By Michael Busselen
“Now wait, that is a well?” asked Kara. “That is the main well???”
I’m not sure what she had in mind when she pictured a well for a rural property with approximately 25,000 vines. The well is a workhorse, pulling the majority of agricultural and domestic water supply for Woodhawk’s 70 acres. She was unimpressed with the plain grey cement cylinder with some pipes coming out of it. She stared at it skeptically. “Really? That’s it??”
A year ago when we took ownership of Woodhawk Vineyards we knew we had a whole lot to learn. First off all about growing grapes – about bud break, flowering, fruit set, veraison, harvest and then pruning. And about making wine — harvesting, crushing and pressing, fermentation, clarification, and then aging and bottling. And those are just the main section titles in the coursework – so many more decisions big and small that lead to the eventual outcome of great wine.
A year later we have barely scratched the surface of those topics. Sure we’ve taken some courses, talked to a lot of experts, and been there to see all the steps to growing grapes first hand (although as noted in an earlier blog, we weren’t one site for the actual days of harvest in 2021). But if good grape growing and wine making requires a PhD we are not even getting close to qualifying for our associate degree yet. But that’s ok, we have years to figure all these things out – and in the meantime lots of experts to help.
What we are beginning to master is the complex, inner workings of a managing a large rural property. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has its foundation physiological needs: air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing and reproduction. To that list I would add just one more: power.
In a property such as Woodhawk we are “off the grid” for everything but electricity. No cable tv, no municipal sewer, no city water supply. But even for electricity the availability/reliability is different than back in the burbs. While a typical household in California might see 3-4 power outages a year each lasting just a few hours in a place like Alexander Valley you might see more like 8-10 outages a year, with several lasting 8 or more hours (often for maintenance). And if the winds pick up you even get the “Public Safety Power Shutoffs” (PSPSs) – outages that can last days or even weeks in an effort to try and prevent wildfires.
Return to Maslow’s needs and water comes right at the top of the list – and without power on a rural property you have no water. And with no water you have … no way to defend the property against fire. So for the past year I have been battling supply chain shortages to secure backup generators that will power the house and water system across the property such that we can survive a power outage of up to 14 days. With lights, working a/c, working gates, working appliances and best of all, plenty of water at pressure.
So power and water. Water and power.
We make a first Covid-era Disneyland trip a few weeks ago and I finally grasped what Kara had been saying all those months ago when we bought Woodhawk and she found our wells so confusing/disappointing.
She was just looking for Sleepy, Happy and Dopey. And maybe a wish or two.