“What do you mean you don’t water your grapes?!”
Is a phrase we hear a lot when we tell people we are dry farmers. For those unfamiliar with dry farming, we understand the common shock and awe that people often express when they learn just what dry farming is. Since dry farming is a staple of our vineyard and our wines, we wanted to talk more about it to help people understand just what it means and why it matters so much to us here at Bella Luna Estate Winery.
Below is an interview with the winemakers, Kevin Healey and Sherman Smoot, all about dry farming.
For those who are more unfamiliar, what is dry farming?
Sherman: Dry farming means we don’t irrigate the vineyard; we let Mother Nature rain on it instead. Even more importantly, by dry farming we are trying to conserve water and be a water-friendly winery.
Why did Bella Luna choose dry farming versus more traditional methods, like irrigation?
Kevin: I think it makes for more interesting wines with more minerals and earthy content. It means wines with lots of earth and sun and light.
How does dry farming impact the vineyard?
Kevin: Dry farming is a challenge because every year is going to be different, according to the weather and rainfall. If you have a wet year you’ll have more grapes with less character, but with dry years you will hopefully have a lot of character but not as much wine [laughing]. It makes more interesting wine and every year is different.
Sherman: The grapes are smaller and the skins are thicker and since a major part of the varietal character is in the skin, we get more intense fruit characteristics in our wine from our dry farmed grapes.
How does dry farming impact the wine?
Kevin: If you're irrigating grapes you are going to have big, plump grapes that are consistent, but with dry farming you get smaller, different fruit that makes for more concentrated wines.
Sherman: We get more intense fruit, because the roots go so deep causing them to pick up trace minerals from the earth, meaning we get more unique, mineral characteristics in the wine.
What are some of the positives you’ve seen with dry farming?
Kevin: You can walk around your vineyard and you don’t have to duck under pipes and things and manuever around drip lines everywhere [laughing]. Also, you get better looking vines when they are head trained and "au naturel." Every vine is different and has its own character. Pruning is cool with dry farming, because every vine is like a sculpture, with individual identities and has to be pruned accordingly.
Sherman: No water bill [laughing]. We don’t have to worry about drip or irrigation and we don’t have to worry about our well going dry.
What are some of the challenges with dry farming?
Sherman: Well, you are dependent on rain and Mother Nature. We don’t get the tonnage per acre that a wet farmer would, but what we do get is higher quality fruit.
Describe dry farming in three words.
Kevin: Unique, intense flavors.
Sherman: Quality, Mother Nature.