What is dry farming? Nothing new!
Tuesday, May 1, 2018 at 1:18PM
Linda Johnson-Bell

Dry farming is nothing new. It’s how European vineyards have always been farmed. When I tell a consumer that irrigation has always been illegal in the quality vineyards of France and Italy, they are shocked. Water usage and wine are not dots that consumers have ever connected or cared about.  Never mind that your glass of irrigated South African Chenin Blanc required more than 150 litres of precious freshwater to produce.  Dry Farming is not just simply “not irrigating”. There is more to it than that. There needs to be careful soil preparation so that the soils retain winter rainfall: only nine inches annually are required. We know that when we irrigate, we artificially increase the yields, decrease the wine quality, deplete and over-salinate the soils (look at Australia), and increase the plant’s vulnerability to climatic stress. This is because irrigated vines have shallow root masses whilst dry-farmed vines are forced to dig deeper to find water and nutrients – and taste – this is where “terroir” is found, by the way.

Irrigation is used primarily in the New World regions to increase yields. Period. In Napa Valley, spray irrigation systems were initially installed in the 1960s to combat winter frosts and were not really used throughout the growing season until the 1980s to coincide with the New World wine boom. The Californian wines that won the infamous Paris Tasting, were all dry farmed! There are still pockets of dry farmers in Napa, in South Africa’s Swartland, Chile, Lebanon – in fact, we know we can grow wine in the desert. More and more New World wine producers are transitioning to dry farming and letting the consumer assume that it is some new trend. It is not. It is the way in which quality wines have always been grown.

What worries me, is that now that the wine laws in Europe are loosening and irrigation is being allowed that we will see more of the Old World vineyards churning out New World yields. And perversely, as water legislation tightens and water supplies dry up in the New World, dry farming will become their norm and we will have a reversal of roles – how ironic. For there are plenty of European wine producers who would kill to be rid of the yield restrictions so that they could compete with international yields. But this is how the wine industry got into such a mess in the first place. It is time to create a level playing field- something Mother Nature seems to have already figured out.

Article originally appeared on The Wine Lady & The Wine and Climate Change Institute (http://thewinelady.com/).
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