After San Diego, John and I decided to tour around California – working our way back to Los Angeles. Our first stop was Temecula. A city of 100,000 in south-central California, Temecula’s main drawing point for tourist are the many wineries. There are more than 35 wineries with vineyards covering over 3500 acres. We did a lot of driving through the vineyards, unfortunately we didn’t see any grapes growing – cool weather puts the vines into dormancy. Grapes are harvested between September and November. We learned that a majority of the wineries in Temecula manually harvest the grapes rather than mechanically harvesting them. It is obviously more labour intensive, but ensures that only ripe grapes are picked, and clusters that have rot are left on the vine. Like every other crop, vineyards are at the mercy of the weather. Frost is the obvious risk, but too high of temperatures also stunts the grape development. A majority of the vineyards that we saw were irrigated.
The other agricultural insight we discovered was the significant number of orange groves in California. We have toured orchards in Florida, and always related that state to citrus production. Oranges rank 7th in commodities that California produces – top three are milk, grapes and almonds. Valencia and Navel oranges are the primary types grown. Growing season is November through May/June. I normally don’t like eating fresh oranges, but the ones we bought at a roadside stand were delicious.
From Temecula, we travelled onto Palm Desert (just outside Palm Springs). We have been here before – and always enjoy the slow pace. Population is just under 50,000, but expands exponentially in the winter due to snowbirds. Palm Desert has a dry arid climate, with a mean annual temperature of 75.8 degrees – making it one of the warmest spots in the USA. One thing you notice driving into the area is the significant number of wind turbines. Wind turbine generators produce electricity by harnessing the wind. The largest of these windmills stands 150 feet high, and the compartment at the top holding only the generator, hub and gearbox weighs up to 45,000 pounds. A wind turbine costs around $300,000 but each one can produce 300 kilowatts of electricity – amount used by a typical household in a month. There are more than 4000 windmills in the area. Electric companies in California are mandated to obtain at least 33 percent of their energy from renewable sourcing – either wind or solar. Quite a sight, though in September 2012 – Donald Trump went on Twitter to say that the turbines make the desert unsightly. “Ugly wind turbines have destroyed the entrance to Palm Springs” Trump tweeted. “These monstrosities are ruining landscapes all over the globe.” Let’s be honest – I am pretty sure Donald Trump doesn’t worry too much about paying his electric bill. Wind turbines will produce stable long-term cheap energy, while conventional energy prices will increase as fossil fuels become more difficult to access.