“I want to learn by Mother Nature and not have to spend the money on (inputs) I don’t need, so if I can get the data in the beginning, it’s just education that helps me make smart choices later on,” Drake said.

He is an ardent proponent of composted mulch soil amendments, and has forged partnerships with area landscapers who dump and shred their landscape trimmings and compost it into large-scale mulch fields, which Drake then uses under the vines.

Grower and winemaker Nick Palumbo practices a “less is more” approach, and employs strict regulated deficit irrigation up through veraison. “The reason wine growing and the potential for economic success in the wine industry is that, if you’re going after quality, your cost savings are in water, and that’s a huge savings for us.

“Labor in the vineyards and other things involved in making quality grapes cost a lot, but the beauty is you can cut back on water and get a better quality grape, so that’s a win-win all the way around.”

Labor availability is a growing problem in Temecula like it is elsewhere in the state. “Normally I have two crews of 12 to 14 guys at harvest,” Drake said. “This year I’ve had a hard time just filling up one crew of 12.” On a recent night, he said he was down to seven workers by the time the crew brought the night’s harvest into the winery.

“We’re in desperate need of a (federal) guest worker program,” Drake said. “We need to have labor at harvest and pruning seasons, and then these guys can go home. A lot of them don’t want to come up here and be citizens, but they do want to come up and make some money and go home.”

Prices have improved in Temecula as they have elsewhere in the state, particularly for Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. Sangiovese, Montepulciano and Tempranillo prices also were up a bit, he said.