Fancy Places, Part Two: Dry Farming
Going to about five or six tasting rooms for wine today, the most common term that I heard was “dry farmed.” Eventually, I had to ask the sommelier (wine expert) what in fact that meant, since as I understand it, grapes are a plant, and plants need water.
Dry-farmed vineyards do not receive any irrigation. Water held in the soils from winter precipitation provides the necessary water for vine growth. Many dry-farm growers do minimally irrigate new vines for the first 1 to 3 years of production to help establish the vines. Obviously, given the drought conditions in California, it seems like pretty much everyone would be “dry farming.” Still, it is presented as a selling point in the grapes.
This is no problem for most of Europe’s classic grape-growing regions, such as Bordeaux and Burgundy, where too much water is a greater danger than too little. In fact, in many wine regions, dry farming is obligatory, because irrigation is illegal. California during a drought falls under that kind of category, as we are rationing water in ways that sometimes seem foolhardy. However, despite the current vogue, in dryer regions (such as most of California) irrigation has become common practice, especially in the past few decades. As is often the case, a backlash has developed, and some growers believe that dry farming is preferable. again, during a drought, that kind of backlash becomes a marketing point.
There are two main reasons to dry farm: water conservation and grape quality. On the quality side, some vintners believe the practice leads to more intensely flavored grapes. Dry-farmed fruit is supposed to be “sweeter, denser and smaller.” Apparently (and logically) too much water can dilute flavors. Think about the idea of “watering down beer or wine.” However, we also know that too little water leads to raisins (not just sunlight…you know who you are, bro). In fact, with the recent trend of ultra-ripe flavors, it’s very popular to hydrate grapes just a little before harvest to give them some extra “hang time” on the vine.
Dry farming means more than just turning off the faucet. First, it’s important to pick a rootstock that will seek the moisture deep in the soil (not just on the surface). Vines must be spaced sufficiently to get all the moisture they can—if you plant vines too close together, there’s too much competition for water. And the correct soil mix is crucial to prevent moisture from escaping. Grapevines are pretty adaptable, but there’s definitely more hands-on work when it comes to dry farming. A whole lot of work, for empirically less grapes, and as a result, less wine.
The fact is…I had no idea what “dry farming” was before today. I heard it over and over, looked it up, and found it mildly interesting. clearly, you didn’t really need me to tell you that. He came about mostly because I kept hearing about “dry farming”, farmers fit the science fantasy setting pretty well…and I passed a high school with the mascot “the Bearcat.” I was all…”What’s that? Some dark hybrid between a bear and a cat?” Googling it, I found the creature, which you can check out here.
Ultimately, I didn’t want to figure out, while wine tasting, who to draw an anthropomorphic bear cat farmer, so I just went with a sort of blue collar Thunderan. Those are non-royal thundercats, by the way, in case you aren’t a total geek like me.
Maybe we will see a legit Beracat later. I make no promises. Instead…on to eating.