Weaning vines off water

John Williams, the visionary Frog’s Leap winery owner from Rutherford in the Napa Valley, was the most logical go-to person when an idle comment from a shop owner suggested that the wine industry could face water-shortage problems very soon.
Williams, ever his contentious self on the topic of vine irrigation, is a walking encyclopedia on the subject of water use in vineyards. But his opening line when I called him last week to speak of water use in vineyards, though typical of his philosophy, was still a bit of a shock: “We [in Napa] are drawing 1.2 billion gallons of water and putting it on vines that don’t really need it,” he said.
It’s important to know that Frog’s Leap is one of the most vocal advocates of organic farming. Williams is a firm believer in dry-farming of vines to make better wines.
Williams believes that the best wines are made from vines with deep roots and that by irrigating as routinely as they do, the majority of Napa growers are feeding the vine a drug (water) — and there is no methadone solution.
“The entire valley was dry-farmed for 100 years until 1976, when the first drip irrigation systems were installed,” Williams said. “When the vines have easy access to water, they do not have to push their roots down very far.”
He says that shallow root systems lead to fruit that’s lacking in flavors until later in the season. And a result of that is that growers pick later than they would need to if they were set up to be dry-farmed. As it is today, the broad use of irrigation leads to alcohol levels that are higher than they should be, he said.
Read more via Berger: Weaning vines off water | The Press Democrat.

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