Why We Dry Farm

From John, June 16th, 2013

It is no secret that Cameron Winery does not use irrigation in our vineyards.  It is also no secret that we are part of a like-minded group of wineries/grape growers who feel the same way (The Deep Roots Coalition).  The reasons for eschewing irrigation are multifarious but are rooted in a common notion that it makes sense and is truly sustainable.  One need only look south to the Russian River in Sonoma County to see the crisis that is developing around this topic. We recommend that you watch A Return to Dry Farming – an excellent film that shows how dry farming can be one solution to the current water shortages in Sonoma County.

Given that grapes have been farmed for literally thousands of years without irrigation, why is it that large segments of the viticultural community now think that it is impossible to farm without it?  The answer likely comes down to money:  it is generally quicker to get grapes on line and to start turning a profit with irrigation and one can achieve larger crops with it.

But what is the cost in the quality of the wine?  I would argue that the cost is significant.  The grapevine leaf canopies are essentially sugar factories turning out sucrose that is exported to the grape clusters.  Irrigated vines are turning out so much sugar in the course of a growing season that the resulting fruit from these vineyards routinely comes in at 25-26% sugar by weight resulting in alcohols that are 14-15%.  This is not wine of finesse.  This is not wine of complexity.

The wines from our dry-farmed grapes typically come in at 12.5-13.0% alcohol.  The yields are typically low (1.5-2.5 tons per acre) and the intensity and complexity of the wines are astonishing.  These are wines that go with food.

And perhaps most important, at the end of the day we know that our vineyards and way of life will endure for the next generation.  A vineyard that exists on the notion of being sustained by a disappearing aquifer or stream cannot say the same.

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