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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Drought & Dirt - Dry Farmed Wines to Wet Your Whistle

It's no secret the wine industry uses a lot of water, and no secret that California, who produces 90% of all U.S. wine, is grappling with historic drought. Much has been made about how much water it takes to produce a bottle of wine. Figures vary wildly depending on numerous factors: reclaimed water, annual rainfall, irrigation systems, climate, elevations of vineyard plantings and slopes, soil type, rootstock and much more so don’t believe the hype you might read from some misinformed newspaper, blog or website. The indisputable fact is that the majority of water used in wine production is for cleaning barrels, hoses, and tanks, not farming. Many wineries are reclaiming greywater and reducing water used in the sanitation process. Dry farmed (non-irrigated) vineyards routinely produce powerful expressions of their grape and help intensify flavors. Here then are a few examples of dry-farmed wines that not only help the environment, but provide unique drinking experiences. (NOTE: This article first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter)

Canard Vineyard 2012 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
A vineyard typically delivers quality or quantity, but not usually both. Canard sacrifices big yields for smaller grapes and greater concentration of flavor. “If you irrigate, the roots stay at the surface, but if you deprive the vines of water, they will dig down deep, picking up greater complexities along the way,” says Adam Fox, managing director. “We believe our wines are more terrior driven - you can taste they are from Calistoga.” Rich and voluptuous with vibrant black cherry, raspberry, black and huckleberry, with shrewd notes of cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg and black pepper spice - a perfect balance of oak, fruit and a mild but proper acidity. This is a seamless wine that reflects exactly how dry farming can change the complexity of a wine. ($125,

Carlisle Winery 2012 Derivative White
Made of odd-ball grapes like Sémillon, Muscadelle and Palomino, this Sonoma white wine is picked later in the year to give the vines more ripening time. Many of the vineyards that winemaker Mike Officer pulls from are old vine vineyards dating from the late 1800s up to the 1950s, which tend to be dry farmed anyhow. The Derivative, with notes of sweet resin, perfumed aromas of lemon, quince, beeswax, and lanolin is a thick, structured white wine, able to match a variety of foods dues to its subtle qualities and mild acidity. ($34,

Cedarville Vineyards 2013 Petite Sirah
From the Fair Play AVA in the Sierra Foothills, Jonathan Lachs left Napa to be unfettered in California Gold country where he farms organically. “Dry farmed vines are typically mature, so their roots are deep and their grapes express their terrior,” he says. “Dry farmed vines are more self regulating which keeps yields down, and dry farmed vines don't require supplemental irrigation, which moves them up the hierarchy of sustainability,” he says. All this results in a powerful elegant wine ripe with huckleberry, black raspberry and blueberry, notes of cedar, leather and an earthy juiciness. ($29,

Emeritus 2012 Pinot Noir Hallberg Ranch
From Sonoma’s Russian River Valley comes this classic Pinot Noir. Owner Brice started thinking about dry farming when friend and mentor Aubert de Villaine (owner of Domaine de la Romanée Conti in Burgundy) convinced him that irrigation alters the signature of a wine while unnecessarily wasting precious resources. According to Jones the deep roots that result from dry-farming are “the only honest reflection of a vineyard’s terrior.” This Pinot offers bright acidity with mellow red raspberry, pepper spice, a back note of cola and rhubarb, offering more subtle expressions than typical of Pinot Noir.  ($42,

Foxen Winery 2012 Cabernet Franc
Often people dry farm because they don't have enough ground water. Such is the case at Rancho Tinaquaic in Santa Barbara. Foxen Winery’s original ten acres were planted in 1989 and were watered minimally to get them started the first year, but since then they have relied on Mother Nature alone. Similar with the Loire - the birthplace of Cabernet Franc - this is 100% Cabernet Franc is juicy with earthy overtones of blackberry, black cherry, vanilla, cedar, rhubarb, and a strong acidity running through the middle. Aged for 22 months in French oak barrels mellows the tannins making for a pure expression of the grape. ($48,

Inman Family Wines 2014 Endless Crush Rose of Pinot Noir
Kathleen Inman not only dry farms, she uses recycled water to push her compost teas through her drip system at bud break, bloom and set. In her cellar she uses steam instead of hot water, using fewer gallons to clean oak barrels, and using only on-demand hot water. She has the lowest water use commercial toilets and low volume taps at the sinks. “I have dry farmed because I wanted my plants to be more robust and able to cope with short periods of drought,” she says. Her rose presents lithe flavors of delicate strawberry, watermelon, sweet grapefruit, a mild minerality and acidity making this an ideal aperitif wine. ($25,

Lone Madrone 2013 Chenin Blanc
Planted in 1971 this dry farmed vineyard, located in Paso Robles’ Westside, is planted to Chenin Blanc, and true to Chenin, which is native to Sancerre in France’s Loire Valley, this is typical mineral and stone flavors, a light grapefruit and back note of lemon-lime, a moderate acidity and no oak treatment in the least, which is why Chenin Blanc is so refreshing. The fruit here, though soft at first begins to grow and make its presence known over time. ($28,

Maryhill Winery 2013 Gewürztraminer
It ain’t just California who dry farms; Washington and Oregon too practice this, though it’s easier for them since they typically get more rain. Planted in 1972 on Washington’s Underwood Mountain in the Columbia Gorge AVA, rainfall percolates into Maryhill vineyard's grainy “buckshot” sized volcanic loam. The soils from the extinct volcanic cone of Underwood Mountain can be as deep as 45 feet and retain moisture well so the vines take what they need. There’s sweet peach on the nose and less floral notes typical of Gewürztraminer, but it’s bursting with resin, green tea, quince and mango on the palette along with a minimal sweetness making this an amazing value. ($14,

Macchia 2013 Noma Ranch Zinfandel
Forget the fact that these are really old vines from Lodi, this five-acre parcel is sandwiched between another winery and a Styrofoam factory meaning dry farming can happen anywhere. The result is an earthy, jam-filled Zinfandel with a pronounced black cherry, raspberry and cedar-vanilla. There is a ton of noticeable but soft pepper spice, cinnamon and a line of acidity, all the better to go with food. This wine makes you appreciate how rich a wine can be. ($24,

Sokol Blosser 2012 Orchard Block Pinot Noir
From the Dundee Hills region of Oregon the owners were aware of the impact that farming and wine production would have on the environment so they started a 'good to the earth' policy through certified-organic dry farming, sustainable business practices and low impact packaging. In 2002 Sokol Blosser became the first U.S. winery to receive LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification. This 2012 Pinot Noir is rich and robust, with boatloads of raspberry, blackberry, red cherry and rhubarb. This is a smooth number with back notes of cedar and vanilla and a mild acidity. ($70,

St. Francis 2012 “Old Vines” Zinfandel
This wine is made from head-pruned and dry farmed vines ranging in age from 55 to more than 100 years, therefore there is mature ripe blackberry and black cherry throughout. Rounding out the structure are aromas of boysenberry, tobacco leaf and charcoal note, with hints of  plum and charred wood, framed by a buoyant acidity. Old vine Zinfandel leans towards this kind of darker maturity and this wine expresses this quite clearly. ($59,

ZD 2013 Reserve Chardonnay
After the deLeuze family purchased this Carneros vineyard, they set about converting it to organic status. These dry farmed Chardonnay vines, planted in the early 1980s end up creating a stunningly smooth and creamy wine; it’s all butterscotch, mango, a wisp of lemon-lime, vanilla and sweet toasted almonds with a thick viscosity and a beautiful acidity showing just how powerful dry farmed fruit can be. ($70,

Montes Alpha 2012 Carménère
It’s not just the U.S. who dry farms, and this wine from Chile shows how dry farming increases the quality of a wine with more ripe fruit, but also more weight and maturity in the mouth. The vineyard has decreased their overall water use up to 65% by dry farming and reclaiming their water. Typical of Carménère there is rich black cherry, huckleberry, and ripe blueberry compote flavors with supporting floral and lavender notes along with sandalwood, and sweet resin. ($25,

1 comment:

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