You may have heard the term “dry farming” being thrown around in certain wine regions, but do you know what that actually means?
Dry farming is an agricultural technique that was developed in order to grow crops without using an irrigation system. This technique has been used in the Mediterranean for crops such as grapes and olives for thousands of years. And nowadays, it specifically refers to crop production during a dry season, utilizing the residual moisture in the soil from the rainy season or melted snow from winter.
Outside of the Mediterranean, there are vineyards in dryer parts of the U.S. that have opted to utilize the dry farming technique for two reasons: grape quality and water conservation. According to the California Ag Water Stewardship Initiative, dry farming is not a strategy for maximum yield, but rather it allows nature to dictate the true sustainability of agricultural production in a region. It allows the vines to establish a natural balance of root mass, leaves, and fruit. It also helps limit excessive sugars and extracted flavors, enabling the grapes to achieve full ripeness on their own.
Since California’s water is being very closely managed, dry farming offers an economic and eco-friendly alternative to the typical irrigation techniques. According to Wine Spectator, dry farming can save as much as 16,000 gallons of water per acre per year which is not only saving the farmers money but helps with California’s drought situation.
But dry farming is not a technique that will be successful in every wine region. The right rootstock that can grow deep into the soil needs to be paired with the right mix of soil that can retain water well. The vines also need to spaced far enough away from each other so that they aren’t competing for the same water, cutting down on the number of vines that can fit within a plot of land.
But why should you care if a wine has been produced from dry farming or not? It is believed that dry farming yields better tasting, more nutritious products (grapes), therefore, lending itself to produce better quality and better-tasting wines, without alterations. The difference between irrigated and dry-farmed wines can be likened to eating a hot-house hydroponically grown tomato versus one that was grown our in a field – there is a considerable difference in taste!