On the Vine: Dry Farming

ripening grapes

If you're like us, you probably love California wine. Understandably, you probably also care about weather here and how it affects California grape vines. The biggest obstacle currently posed to vineyards around the state? This historic drought.

Water stress isn't necessarily a bad thing for grape vines. In fact, some stress from their physical environment means that vines produce fewer and smaller clusters. These fewer grapes tend to have more concentrated levels of sugars and nutrients. The result can be dense, flavorful wines with plenty of extraction.

But, too much water stress for a plant that isn't used to it? Well, that's simply not good and can lead to damaged vines. Grape vines need time to develop deep roots that help it withstand reduced levels of surface water. Luckily for some, dry farming - a long-standing grape growing tradition - has started to take root here in the Golden State. Dry farmed vines rely solely on natural rainfall and not on irrigation. These vines have been carefully trained to withstand natural periods of drought, largely because of their deep roots.

Dry Farming has it's advantages - especially when more counties are starting to put bans on new plantings and well drilling. There are trade-offs, though. Lower yields for wineries means less product to make a profit with (usually resulting in higher prices). And unfortunately, natural irrigation can only go so far into staving off the effects of an unnaturally long and intense drought.


Still, out of respect for both drought and terrior, it is reassuring to know that quality, dry-farmed California wines are out there. One of my favorites in the shop right now? Our 2013 Zinfandel from Bedrock Wine Co. If you think you like Zin, you need to try this Sonoma County gem. It's briary cherry, soft sagebrush and smooth medium body aptly represent what a Cali wine is capable of.

More reading:

Vinepair (wine blog article on the drought)

CBS San Fran (news article on the quality of drought-affected wine)

NBC (news article on the hardiness of grape vines)