Dry farming forgoes modern irrigation and, farmers say, produces much tastier crops. In a drought-stricken state, should others follow suit?
Wine grapes were not watered in Sonoma and Napa before the 1970’s. Corporate wine moved in after that and water use became the norm. Grape growers are paid by the ton and water plumped grapes weigh more, you do the math. As our aquifers dry up and well owners compete with big wine for the precious public resource, maybe it is time to go back to the old time honored tradition and preserve our natural resources.
There’s something different about Will Bucklin’s grape vines. At first it’s hard to notice, but a drive through northern California’s Sonoma Valley, past waves of green, manicured vineyards, makes it clear. The black ribbon of PVC irrigation pipe that typically threads the vines is curiously absent here – because Will doesn’t water his crops.
Bucklin’s Old Hill Ranch, purchased by his stepfather Otto Teller in 1980, claims to be the oldest-rooted vineyard in the area. Teller fell in love with the vineyard because it was one of the few that still “dry-farmed”. Dry farming is a method that bypasses artificial irrigation, relying instead on seasonal rainfall and working the soil in such a way that it holds on to water for the drier months.
Is it possible to grow healthy grapes without watering them? Actually, if conditions are right, he says, it’s possible to grow even better ones. Less water means smaller, more intensely flavoured grapes with a higher skin-to-fruit ratio…