One aspect of farming that is often over-looked is the use of water. While we are all in a tizzy when it comes to fossil flues and chemical additives used in farming, we often forget to examine the use of life’s most basic requirement: water.
I’m not going to belabor the point, water is a limited resource that is renewable to a certain extent, but our agricultural system is exploiting this resource faster than our aquifers can be refilled. So what should we do about it? There’s a lot we can do, but one thing we can do today, right now, is drink a bottle of wine made from dry farmed grapes. Here are five of my favorites!
Photo courtesy jazz2kde via Flickr/CC
What is Dry Farming?
A few points about dry farming before getting started. If you’re interested in reading more on the method check out: Dry Farming. Most vineyards in Europe are dry farmed and in fact are required to be dry farmed by law, though there is often some exception for new plantings which are particularly susceptible to the stress of drought.
It can be argued that dry farmed vines possess a certain balance that their irrigated brethren do not. While I’m not entirely on board with this concept, I will say that old vines that are dry farmed develop root systems that insulate them from many of the vagaries associated with inconsistent rainfall, so they generally produce more successful wines in times of either drought or excessive rainfall.
I understand that not everyone can dry farm, but those that can. particularly when they have other options, should be applauded for it and supported.
Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel
If you start with old vines you’ve got a much easier road to hoe than if you’re going to plant a new vineyard. When you consider that irrigation only arrived to California’s vineyards en masse in the 1960s and 1970s, it’s no surprise that many of the old vine vineyards are still very happy to go about their business with any help from irrigation.
Dry Creek Valley is all about old vine Zinfandel, and much of it is dry farmed. It’s a way of life for most of these farmers, with winemakers convinced that they produce better wines because of it. You also get the feeling that their farming in a place called “Dry Creek” has made an impression on them!
Two to try:
Nalle Zinfandel – An iconoclastic Zin. Dry farmed and field blend, it represents Dry Creek at its most elegant.
Sausal – Another old time Zinfandel producer, Sausal continues to produce classic, gutsy, opulent Zins from their dry farmed vines.
Photo courtesy Michaela_Rose_ via Flickr/CC
At first glance, Santorini seems to be the worst place on earth to dry farm. Not only is there essentially no water, but the poor, loose soil (if you can call it that) resembles oceans of incessantly dusty pumice. Of course, the fact that this soil is youthful volcanic pumice and ash help to contribute to that impression!
Dry farming then is likely practiced here because there simply is no viable alternative. In a twist of nature, the water the vines get comes as much from overnight fogs as it does from impossibly deep root systems. Assyrtiko is a lovely wine, it’s mineral, tense and perfect for shellfish or whetting one’s appetite
Two to try:
Hatzidakis – An artisanal producer practicing biodynamic methods, this is particularly tense and mineral-driven expression of Assyrtiko.
Argyros – A more fruit-driven style, but this is still tense and sapid – a great introduction to Assyrtiko.
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Marcelo Costa
Oregon Pinot Noir
In a land where too much rain is the overriding concern, it’s not surprising to find plenty of dry farmed vineyards. The real question is why all of these vineyards are not dry farmed. The truth is that in many cases, the water simply doesn’t come when it is needed, which is naturally during the hottest days of the season. Old vines and deep roots do much to alleviate this issue, but some producers are still hesitant to abandon their positions on this matter. Still, there are plenty of producers who do make wines from dry farmed fruits and compelling wines at that.
Two to try:
Cameron Pinot Noir – One of the most impressive producers of Oregon Pinot Noir which has remained a bit of a cult secret.
Brandborg Pinot Noir – A real surprise from the Umpqua Valley in southern Oregon which can challenge the best of the Willamette.
Chile is blessed with abundant rainfall as well as a very Euro-centric wine making culture, so it comes as no surprise to find dry farmed vineyards common throughout the country. Some larger producers do irrigate to help support yields.
One of the treasures of Chile that has not been exported enough to be recognized is the dry farmed, bush trained old vines of Carignan that are common in the Maule region. These can be a challenge to find but are worth hunting down!
Two to try:
Odfjell Vineyards Carignan - A bit of a more modern interpretation of Carignan, replete with oak spice and vanilla notes.
De Martino Carignan – A more rustic effort, rich and chewy with wonderfully fresh and bright fruit
Long Island Whites
New York State’s wines have come a long way over the past three decades, and I have been lucky to sample many of the wines along the way. Lucky not because the wines used to be special, many sucked, but because I can now see how far they’ve come.
Long Island is a bit damp and can be a challenging place to ripen grapes at times, but one that is ideally suited for dry farming. I am coming around to some of the reds from Long Island, but I’ve found the real successes among the whites, and the Sauvignon Blancs in particular. Dry farming is far from universal on Long Island, but some of the oldest vineyards have made the commitment to dry farming and their wines continue to rank among the region’s finest.
Two to try:
Bedell Chardonnay – They helped pioneer the region and Kip Bedell is famous for mentoring half the winemakers out there!
Channing Daughter’s Whites – The cutting edge of experimentation on Long Island’s South Fork. All of the whites are worth a taste and given their prices, maybe two!
Want to Learn More?
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