What does it mean if a vineyard is "dry farmed"?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

What does it mean if a vineyard is "dry farmed”?

—Paul, Lancaster, Pa.

Dear Paul,

Dry farming isn’t quite what it sounds like: It doesn’t mean that vineyards never get any water, but it typically means that the vines aren’t irrigated, relying only on rain. Not only is dry farming environmentally responsible, proponents suggest it yields more intensely-flavored grapes. In some regions, irrigation has been the norm for centuries; in others, it’s prohibited.

Water shortages have been a serious concern in California in recent years, and freshwater conservation is generally a global concern. So why isn’t dry farming more prevalent? It’s a little more complicated than just turning off the hose: Irrigated vines have shallow roots, and it can take years for deeper root systems to develop. Vineyards surrounded by trees or other crops competing for water would have more trouble without irrigation, and certain climates, soils, rootstocks, grape varieties and planting densities are more successfully dry farmed than others. Young grapevines also typically require more water than older vines.

Some vintners also take a looser approach to dry farming, making it their standard practice but resorting to irrigation if conditions imperil the vines or the crop.

—Dr. Vinny

Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

Once chilled, must a wine stay chilled? Is it ruined if it warms up again?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny debunks the myth that wine shouldn't be chilled and then …

Jun 27, 2022

Does Pinot Noir come in both red and white versions? Are they the same grape?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how red wines get their color. (Hint: It's not …

Jun 22, 2022

If you're supposed to hold a wineglass by the stem, why are stemless glasses so popular?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert Dr. Vinny explains the pros and cons of stemless …

Jun 13, 2022

How much do our taste buds influence our perception of wine?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert Dr. Vinny explains how taste sensitivity impacts our …

Jun 6, 2022

What's the shelf life of a box of wine?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert, Dr. Vinny, explains why box wines aren't meant to …

May 31, 2022

Should I refill my own wineglass, or ask the host or server to?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the etiquette or wine service, for hosts and for …

May 23, 2022