March 1995

Dear friends,

I think I have mildew growing behind my ears!  This has been a very wet year, with serious flooding in January and again a few days ago.  We thought you would like a first hand account of the record waters of 1995.  We have therefore hastily prepared this “extra” which we will hasten to the post office, by raft if necessary.  The disaster has literally washed out the commercial traffic, so send us an order so we can buy a few more mops!  Be the first on your block to have bottle authentically inundated by the flood of '95.  Thank you for all your messages of support and concern.  At this writing, the sun has appeared at last, but more rain is forecast for next week!  We are damp, but unbowed.

Best wishes,


The Kirkhams

Greatest Flood on Record

I awoke to a telephone call at 5 am.  It was Thursday morning, March 9, 1995.  I let the answering machine pick up the call, thinking that perhaps it was another nuisance call from an alcoholic friend who likes to telephone me at inconvenient times, much the worse for drink.  It was my neighbor reporting that the river was in her yard and threatening our sales office.  The urgency of the situation was made clear by her tone of voice.  We exchanged only a few words.  I can’t remember thanking her for the warning.

 I climbed into my rain suit, wondering if our levy had collapsed.  Stepping outside I heard an ominous roar, like the ocean, from the direction of the river.  My flashlight barely pierced the darkness and the sheets of rain as I walked down the hill toward the winery.  There I could see the river was over the bank and flowing past the winery toward the office.  Making my way on high ground to the river, I found to my astonishment that the levy was holding but that the river was pouring over the top of it in a cascade!  I had never seen anything like that before.

I knew from the experience in 1986, the previous record for high water, that when the river jumped its bank, the waters would fan out and inundate the sales office.  Nothing could prevent that now except an act of God.  Nevertheless, some losses might be averted if I could get everything off the floor before the water came in.

The ’74 Chevy pickup was parked on high ground at the winery, but the road out to the sales office (and the Silverado Trail) was a torrent.  I decided not to risk it.  As quickly as I could I returned to the house and got in my car.  Our residential driveway was above water and I could drive to the sales room via the Silverado Trail.  There was no light in the sky at all, and I didn’t notice any cars along the Trail.  Only later did I realize that the trail had been cut off both to the south and to the north.  I could hear sirens in the distance.

I turned off the pavement of the Silverado Trail to approach the sales office.  The river had completely encircled the little building, rendering it impossible to see the road.  I know that there were steep drainage ditches on either side of the road, but they ere of course invisible under the uninterrupted flood.  I drove as close to the office as I dared, leaving the car before the water reached the doorframe.  Stepping out of the car, the water was very nearly over the tops of my “wellies”.  I walked cautiously, not wanting to fall into any holes and not wanting the water to get into my boots.

The force of the water had broken in the gate.  As I approached, the security lights went on automatically.  The water was not quite to the threshold of the door.  I said a prayer of thanks for the fact that I had not forgotten my key and let myself in.  The water was about an inch below the door.  I turned on all the lights and looked around.  We were ready for business.  The rug looked reasonably tidy.  Our goods were attractively displayed and there were ample supplies of wine in cases stacked here and there.  Was there any use in doing anything?  Surely the water would be inside in a very short time.  I heard a voice within saying, “I’m not really ready for this.”

I walked through all the rooms thinking that such a survey might give me some idea of what to do.  It seemed useless but I began.  I rolled up the rug and laid it over the tables.  The two large steamer trunks, which had accompanied us to New Zealand twenty years ago, were in the corners.  Lifting one end at a time, I slid a bottle of Chenin Blanc under, elevating the trunks about three inches – enough to be above the flood.  There were about thirty cases of wine stacked in the kitchen.  Getting these off the floor was a real challenge but I managed to find enough space on the counters, the stove, even the garbage can.

I generally use the floor of my office as a horizontal filing system I scooped up all the stacks and balanced them on my desk and side table, noticing as I did so that the water was beginning to seep in through the outside wall of the building.  So much for sandbagging the front door.  I put on Ray Charles to cheer me up.

I had been at it for about an hour, and to my surprise I discovered that I had succeeded in getting everything off the floor – just in a nick.  I wondered if there was anything further to do and decided that there was not.  Water was just starting to spill over the threshold of the front door.

I turned off the lights and the music and stepped back into the water outside, locking the door behind me.  I waddled over to the electrical panel and threw the main disconnect.  Glancing over to the building where I store wine in cases I could see that the water was up about two feet onto the wall.  I hate it when that happens.  I sloshed my way over to the door, opened it, and looked in.  It was not a pretty sight.  Debris was floating all around.  Several of the wine stacks had collapsed and the cases had tumbled into the water.  It was an industrial-grade mess.  I shut the door, deciding to deal with it another day.  I was suddenly feeling very tired.

I got back to the house, as the sky was turning gray.  I left my dripping rain suit and muddy boots on the pegs beside the front door of the house.  Underneath I still had on my pajamas, which were a little damp.  I quickly shed them and slipped back into bed, turning up the electric blanket.  As I rolled over listening to the rain on the roof, Cody asked sleepily, “Who was that on the phone?”

And the Vineyards

Everyone, including the Happy Farmer, would like to know how the flood will affect the vineyards.  Tiny green leaves with rosy tips are visible now in the Chenin Blanc.  The Riesling is not far behind and the Cab Franc and Merlot are at the popcorn stage.  A freeze now could cause great damage but our frost protection systems are untested because of the weather.

The vineyards are much too soggy to support a tractor.  We have been unable to spread fertilizer or spray for mildew.  Conditions for mildew are ideal and if it begins now it becomes impossible to eradicate later on.  Maybe the water has drowned the phylloxera.  That would be nice.

Tinto Rationing

One unfortunate consequence of the foul weather has been to prevent the bottling of goods.  Casa does not have any covered space for bottling operations.  Bottling is done al fresco.  With the unceasing rain it has not been possible to bottle the ’92 red wines as scheduled.  Meanwhile, inventories are very low.

Despite fears of civil unrest the Happy Farmer has reluctantly announced a two case maximum purchase for Tinto.  There are ample supplies of the 1991 Quixote and the 1990 “Kirkham” Cabernet Franc, but all older Cab Franc vintages are on the reserve list.  As the supply is constantly diminishing please call for current availability.

. . . it’s the water

We have cases of wine, which were submerged in floodwater.  The wine inside the bottle is unspoiled but the labels look as though they have survived the flood, which they have.  Undoubtedly you need some of this wine to complete your collection.  Each bottle will bear the authentic flood worn label together with the designation, “Flood Survivor, 1995”.  There is no charge for the silt.  While they last:

    1990 CHENIN BLANC        $99/CASE

    1991 CHENIN BLANC        $99/CASE

    1992 CHENIN BLANC        $85/CASE

    1987 DORADO                   $119/CASE

    1988 DORADO            $95/CASE

    1987 CABERNET FRANC               $199/CASE

    1989 CABERNET FRANC               $185/CASE

    1990 CABERNET FRANC               $140/CASE

    1991 QUIXOTE                   $148/CASE

    1991 TINTO                   $95/CASE