Parrish Family Vineyards Donates, Restores Property

Adelaida creek headwaters found at Paso vineyard

by Jane Firstenfeld
wine grape vineyard paso robles water
Trainees with the California Conservation Corps create space for native plants as part of a creek restoration project at Parrish Family Vineyard's Adelaida Vineyard site.
Paso Robles, Calif.—When David Parrish, president of Parrish Family Vineyards, purchased a small property adjacent to his existing 40-acre vineyard in 2012, he didn’t fully know what he had. Historically planted to almonds, and more recently to pistachios, Parrish discovered an anomaly. During the drought, it was a dry, steep-banked swale.

Upon further investigation from scientists at public agencies, it turned out that in wetter seasons, small streams aggregate there. The resulting Adelaida Creek was known to cause flooding in downtown Paso Robles. Water collected on the property in what Parrish described as a 3-foot-deep “slip ‘n slide” before racing wastefully down the valley instead of replenishing thirsty wells and aquifers.

Parrish decided to restore the property. He enlisted local consulting biologist Brian Dugas to help identify suitable native plants that would thrive on soil that had been aggressively disked to accommodate the nut trees.

Parrish encountered smooth sailing during the permit process. Once he had his permits, though, he changed course. By donating the 0.64 acres to San Luis Obispo County (SLO) in a conservation easement, he learned his costs would be absorbed by the local Resource Conservation District (RCD). RCD would provide funds and labor; aside from his donation, Parrish paid “not a dime” to have the project completed. He didn’t really give up vineyard acreage, he said, because riparian (riverside) acreage cannot be farmed.

“I’ve learned patience from this process,” he told Wines & Vines. Once he deeded the property to the RCD, changing the names, titles and permits took almost another two years. Dormant season planting of more than 400 plants began last November and was completed in February. Parrish carefully chose low-growing Blue Oak, Madrone, Santa Lucia Manzanita and other selections including snapdragons from an approved menu provided by the California of Fish & Wildlife.

Devin Best, executive director of the Upper Salinas-Lower Tablas RCD, which serves the northern part of SLO from Templeton, helped Parrish do everything right, Parrish said. “The devil’s in the details,” he noted.

Owning a growing winery that recently increased production from about 2,000 cases to almost 3,600 cases in 2016, Parrish has little spare time, especially since this year he plans to complete a new production barn and a new tasting room.

    RCD as a Resource

    There are 97 RCDs among California’s 58 counties. You can find yours here.

    According to the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts, typical projects include:
    • Water conservation
    • Watershed protection
    • Creek restoration
    • Stream bank restoration
    • Habitat improvement
    • Fish passage
    • Hedgerow plantings
    • Community education
    • Grower workshops
    • Native plantings
    • Creek cleanups
    • Education of agriculturists on better and new environmental practices particularly around water conservation
    • Classroom visits
    • Fire prevention projects
    • Fire prevention education
    • Technical assistance to agriculturists
    • Watershed management
For the first five years, RCD will maintain the property, which was donated in perpetuity. After that, Parrish will become the custodian. Parrish is so pleased with the results, he asked RCD to take charge of another 0.4 acres, and he will pay for that work himself.

In SLO, the agency works closely with the Vineyard Team to provide community outreach, assemble volunteer teams, track creek maintenance and engage community leadership.

The Parrish project was completed almost totally with handwork provided by the California Conservation Corps, trainees ages 18-23, and the Americorps Watershed Stewardship volunteer program with recent college graduates seeking hands-on experience in the field.

Best brought in a small excavator to dig trenches for an underground PVC irrigation system. The innovative installation is well suited for riparian restoration and native plants, he said.

The Lifepath Cocoon system provides something similar to vine tubes to establish the new vegetation. Best described the “cocoon” as an upside-down bundt cake with a lid. The plant and a water-wick are placed in the cocoon, which gives them a 16- to 18-month establishment period. Eventually, the cocoon decomposes: It never has to be touched again.

Original plans to install “check dams” on the creek headwaters have been pushed back, Best said, because the first stage restoration is working well.

“In the past, (water) ran off the landscape right into the channel, where it was wasted. The new plants now slow it and hold it in the headlands, where it percolates down” into the soil, Best said. “So there is less runoff, and the water is better utilized.”

Best most recently visited the site March 13 and was pleased with the results. Although similar projects are not yet in hand, he said, working with the Vineyard Team through its tailgate workshops and other outreach, he hopes to make other vineyard and winery owners aware of the opportunities and benefits available to them.

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