Dry Farming of Wine Grapes in Templeton, California
In late winter and early spring I can take the best photos of dry-farmed vineyards in my Templeton neighborhood. Because of recent rains, there is plenty of green to set off the brown of the dormant vines, especially those that are head trained.
There is one particular vineyard I love to photograph at this time of year. I’m not sure who owns it, but if I park at the Turley winery on the corner of Winery Road and Vineyard Drive, all I have to do for a good view is cross the street. For the best view I walk the short distance down to Vineyard drive and then look up. The dormant grape vines remind me of troops marching up the hill.
Rotta Winery has used dry farming for as far back as I can remember, and I started noticing these things about ten years ago. Michael Giubbini, the current owner of the vineyards, replanted the old Rotta family vineyards in 1990. He planted mostly Zinfandel. He decided that dry farming and head pruning would produce the best grapes for his wines. Dry-farmed vineyards depend upon rainfall and retaining its water in the soil, rather than on overhead or drip irrigation systems.
Vineyards that are dry-farmed depend on carefully tilled soil that provide a layer of dust to hold the moisture from the rains in the ground. The dust acts as a mulch. The dirt then acts like a sponge and holds moisture until it is released slowly through the vines. It’s said that if you walk between the rows of vines, it actually feels like you are walking on a sponge.
Giubbini and John Williams, owner of the Frog’s Leap Winery in the Napa Valley, both think dry farming improves the quality and flavor of the grapes. That’s one reason they chose dry farming. It does, of course, also conserve water.
Williams emphasizes the importance of choosing the right rootstock if one plans on dry farming. He suggests using “rupestris “stock, since its ancestor came from dry country. It’s important that the roots be able to grow deep into the ground for water and nutrients. Williams grafts the vines into the rootstock in the field, believing this gives the roots a better start than does the more common practice of bench grafting, which is often done indoors while plants are in containers.
Most irrigated vineyards in my area vines are cane-trained. They are planted in rows and pruned down to two “arms” that stretch next to each other. They are supported by wire and trained in such a way that several vines might look like just one long vine from a distance. You will see drip irrigation hoses under the vines, unless overhead irrigation is used. Not all cane-trained vines are irrigated, though. My neighbor at Croad Vineyards cane-trains his vines, but they are still dry-farmed.
Many dry-farmed grapes are head pruned like the ones in the picture above. Each plant is independent of it’s neighbor rather than connected to a shared support. The individual plants will have several spurs – new canes with two to four buds on each. It’s easy to see the shape when the plants are dormant, as in the picture above.
When the leaves start to grow and the vine becomes covered with them, they will look like grape bushes, and will be close to the ground. You can see what I mean in the picture of head trained grapes in autumn, below.
I was surprised to learn that my nearest vineyard neighbors both use dry farming . That makes me happy because it means my well is less likely to go dry.
Pictures and content are original and may not be used without permission, B. Radisavljevic, Copyright 2015, All Rights Reserved
Image Credit » I took the photo