ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

On a recent tour of wineries in Sonoma, I stumbled upon one that uses dry farming, a technique they say improves the quality of their wine. Given the current severe drought in California, dry farming seems to make good sense. Why don’t more California wineries dry farm?

—Karen O., Stevenson Ranch, Calif.

Dear Karen,

I’ve explained the principles of dry farming before, which is what it sounds like: relying only on natural rainfall for growing grapes. It’s popular not only with water conservationists, but as you point out, many vintners believe the practice leads to more intense grapes and wines.

With all the talk of the severe drought in California, the topic of dry farming is coming up as an alternative—in some cases. The problem is that transitioning from an irrigated system to a dry system isn’t as simple as turning off the faucet. It would need to be more gradual, allowing time for the grapevines to develop root systems that seek water deeper in the soil. Dry-farmed vines can have root systems as deep as 30 feet, while irrigated vines typically have much shorter roots, only a couple of feet down. It takes time for those roots to grow. It’s further complicated because young vines require more water to establish their roots, and not every type of soil is conducive to deep root systems. That’s why winemakers are always talking about dirt.

Dry farming is most successful when it starts out as dry farming, and honestly, it’s very site-specific. It starts with figuring out what kind of crop size you can get from what amount of rainfall you can expect, as well as assessing climate, soil type, rootstock and grape variety. Dry farming isn’t suited to large, densely planted vineyards, or vineyards that are surrounded by trees or other crops that would compete for the groundwater. Without irrigation, winemakers lose some ability to react to extremes in weather, which makes grapegrowing a much riskier (and thus, more expensive) proposition. Considering how much of the winemaking process is left up to the whims of Mother Nature, I can’t blame growers for wanting more control.

—Dr. Vinny


Do you have a question for Dr. Vinny? Ask it here...

Wine Basics

We break down the basics—how to taste, serve, store and more. Plus:
» Maps of major wine regions
» Grape variety characteristics

How-to Videos

Learn to taste wine like a pro, pull a cork with flair, get great wine service in a restaurant and more

Wine Spectator School: All courses are FREE for WineSpectator.com Members

Learn from the experts and get the most out of each sip. Take one of our online courses or take them all—from the ABCs of Tasting to in-depth seminars on Food Pairing, California Cabernet, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Sensory Evaluation and more.

Browse our course catalog
Check out the professional wine sales and service courses
Learn Wine Forum: Got questions? Get answers

MEMBER LOGIN

= members only

Keep me logged in      Forgot Password?

Free Email Newsletters

Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions

» View samples
» Or sign up now!
» Manage my newsletter preferences

Classifieds

The marketplace for all your wine needs, including:

Wine Storage | Wine Clubs
Dining & Travel | Wine Auctions
Wine Shops | Wine Accessories