Was It Dry Farmed?
Anyone who has spent anytime attempting to wrap their mind around the concept of "Terroir" is eventually forced to consider the concept of "Dry Farming": growing grapes without resort to irrigation.
I’ve heard it said that the less irrigation a vineyard receives, the more likely the wine made from its grapes will reflect the vineyard’s terroir. This is not a controversial idea. I doubt many grape growers would have much to say in response other than "Duh!"
But how about this:
"A wine doesn’t need to reflect terroir to be good, but it must be dry farmed to reflect terroir"
This is a claim I recently heard made by a pretty smart guy. Pretty definite, eh, particularly the last part of the statement.
Is it true?
I think in order for it to be true the following must also be true:
1. "Terroir" is something that exists before a vine is ever planted, before a wine is ever made and always is a description of a natural, unsullied environment.
2. The natural sources of water a grape vine pulls from is an integral and defining part of any "terroir".
3. The "Terroir" of a vineyard can not be improved upon by human manipulation because once a natural environment is altered it now a different terroir altogether, not an improved terroir.
The above statement about dry farming does not suggest that if only irrigation is avoided a grape vine will produce grapes that reflect the authentic terroir of the vineyard. It merely lays down one of the conditions necessary to produce fruit that is an authentic reflection of an environment’s terroir. And that’s a good thing for the sake of consistency because it follows from the three prerequisites to the Dry Farming Statement that the best a human being can do is produce grapes that come close to being a reflection of an authentic terroir, but can never actually reflect it because the very act of interacting with the environment alters the terroir.
But we are going to ignore this because it would not be very much fun to follow this logic too strictly since it would mean we can never be tasting anything that is an authentic reflection of a natural terroir. That sort of dismisses the point of even talking about terroir.
So, let’s just go with the idea that coming really close to producing a wine that is an authentic reflection of a natural terroir is enough for us mortals, and enough to keep us interested in topic, not to mention our own ongoing wine educations.
That said, I think the fella’s point about Dry Farming is dead on the mark. If you want to observe the trans-formative effects of irrigation all you had to do is study what the roots of a vine do when it is dry farmed vs. when it is irrigated. The roots of the irrigated vine, assuming it’s on a drip system, will gather and bunch around the drip emitter and remain fairly shallow. And why shouldn’t they. The vine need not dig deep to find its life sustaining water. The roots of a dry farmed vine, however, will drill deep into the earth, wrapping itself around boulders and cracking layers of hard clay to get where it needs to be in order to find the precious water.
By irrigating the farmer is essentially forcing the vine to ignore the content of the soils character and muddle around about the surface.
So if you follow me and if you agree, then this leads to a particular action by those who like to ask questions about the wines they drink and the wines they buy: If a wine is said to exhibit a vineyard’s terroir, you really must ask, "Was it Dry Farmed"?