With California's water issues constantly in the news, I thought it was time to repost my story on irrigating vines, the issue few do talk about in the news. I wrote the story eight years ago and it's even more relevant today than ever. I also posted some of the outtakes, because things always get left on the cutting room floor, sometimes they are the more controversial bits. Also, to round out your irrigation reading, a friend just slammed this one on my desk. One of the reasons that grapes don't get much press is that the industry pales next to almonds. But the secret never talks about is that grapes are the one fruit that historically was planted where nothing else could grow. The right farming helps it be dry farmed. The only thing lacking is commitment. I'd love to see pressure put on the industry to stop embracing its entitlement to water ponds. It will be better for the wine, better for the vine, and better for the earth.
THE LEFT OVER BITS.
There are alway such juicy bits left over laying on the floor after an editor cuts into an article. Sometimes I'm responsible for the detritis myself because I couldn't see the way to stitch the great lines into a story. Such was the aftermath of the irrigation story I wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle. I got great letters and even better, no letter bombs. After all, as I was told, "Hey this is water in California. People get killed over this." So rather artlessly put, here are a few scraps. A repetitive theme was the practice of irrigating for ripeness.
However, often the debate was about disputing what ripeness was. Ripe or was it dehydration.
Mitchell Klug, with Premier Pacific Vineyards a man who makes his living irrigating, was one of the most vocal. He also said: I think there is a certain beauty or virture to not irrigating because the vine reacts, how it's going to react and deals on its own with the environment. You cant do it on every site. Some people might say if you can't dry farm, don't install a vineyard. But that;s a whole other debate.
Napa County Agricultural Commissioner, Dave Whitmer seemed very testy with me. At what point asked, "What are you trying to prove with this story?" I realized I was treading on sticky soil, pressing those buttons on this hot issue. He said, "Do you really want to go back to the way California wine used to taste?"
I was up against the West Coast palate syndrome big time. Most of the people I talked with really believed that to compete on the international market they needed to irrigate. Most people forgot that the best wines of California were pre-irrigation and those are the wines that stunned Paris in the 1976 tasting. One area I wanted to delve more into was how the Napa County Resource Conservation department viewed hillside dry farming as dangerous for the environment because of erosion. One woman who works in the department was concerned about her quotes and really wanted to be careful, yet it was clear where her heart was.
A while back a very respected vineyard manager said to me, we are putting so many things and technology into the vineyards, look at what the Europeans do! They have so many more diseases to worry about and we're just stressing out about the smallest things I wish I would see more dry farmed wines out there. When I see them I buy them because I do want to compare them to the standard. If someone had to be on the same page, if they majority got together and said, lets find ways of dry farming or cutting down..their biggest concern is yield they dont want to be competed by their neighbor. It's all about the money.
Then there was Larry Williams, the professor at UC Davis. Larry was a great guy. Very patient but very scientific which made me realize what was the matter with wine schools, they're all scientists! They could use a philosopher or two. When I asked him what he thought about the irrigators who only irrigate twice a season he responded. "Someone just told me, he applied one time 25 gallons per vine per vineyard and then compared it to vines that received no water and he could tell the difference. I'm of the opinion that 25 gallons is like doing nothing."