Believe it or not, but there are wine grape growing regions in the world—Bordeaux and Burgundy included—where the threat of too much rain trumps the threat of too little. I know! Not so in parched California, where drought has dragged on for longer than many of us wish to remember (succulent fatigue is a real thing). When it comes to hydrating Paso Robles area vines, irrigation is a tool many growers choose to employ—while others step away from the well entirely. Call it necessity or a greater step toward eco-consciousness, but dry farming is experiencing resurgence as of late. No idea whether their favorite Zin was produced with one or 100 gallons of water? We can fix that. Whether for flavor or utility, these growers are choosing to turn off the spigot and get back to nature. It’s actually quite—dare I say—refreshing?
Peachy Canyon Winery: No Raisins Here
Established in 1988, Peachy Canyon has come a long way since its days as a 500-case production in an area dotted with more cows than tasting rooms. Now encompassing four estate properties on Paso’s famed Westside, Peachy’s prized vines are farmed sustainably (read: with as little water as possible). Barley is planted between the vines to help prevent erosion and compost is used to promote water retention when there is the odd trickle of precipitation.
These considerations are crucial, helping bolster Peachy’s select dry farmed blocks, including several vines of Zinfandel grown on their Bailey Ranch Vineyard (Peachy Canyon’s 2013 Adelaida District Zinfandel is a great example of a high quality dry-farmed wine boasting plenty of concentrated, juicy flavor). You might think a dry farmed grape would turn into a raisin. Oh, on the contrary! It is a balance, a dance—one that Peachy Canyon has mastered, proving that you can grow sweeter, denser, more flavorful fruit without an ounce of extra H20.
Rotta Winery: Tough Skinned
Before Paso Robles became synonymous with world-class wine, the folks at Rotta Winery were hard at work churning out incredibly Cab, Zin, and Merlot. We’re not talking the 1970s or even the 1960s here. You must travel all the way back to the 1920s to taste Rotta’s very first vintage (the winery is known as one of the first wineries to be established in Paso area). Once surrounded by almond fields, this little Templeton winery never took its eye off the prize, and it’s certainly paid off. How did they do it? Well, largely, the old fashioned way. Owner Michael Giubbini is known to say, “Dry farming is the only way to go in Paso Robles.” The winery’s dry farmed Cabernet Sauvignon is legendary for its bold flavor and is widely considered the best fruit that sourced from the property.
“Not only is it sustainable, but dry farming can help thicken the skin on the grapes, which brings out more rich and intense flavors in the wine,” said Krista at the Rotta Wines tasting room. “It makes for some truly wonderful wines.”
Why take her word for it? Visit the iconic winery and experience for yourself. Come thirsty and leave with a whetted whistle.
Poalillo Vineyards: Dry to Delicious
This cozy family owned winery off Vineyard Drive has been serving up a rainbow of reliably delicious wines since 1992, including Syrah, Cab, and Sauvignon Blanc.
Perhaps Poalillo‘s most popular offerings to date, a stable of award-winning dry farmed zinfandel and zinfandel blends, require no additional H20 to be noteworthy. With less water comes more intense flavor profiles that mirror Paso’s long, warm (and dry) growing season.
Fancy yourself a zinfandel lover? Try Poalillo’s powerful 2005 Estate Zinfandel if you ever get the chance. Aged two years in American oak, this mighty wine proves that outrageous juiciness can come from delightfully dry growing grounds.
Rangeland Wines: Hold the Salt
At Rangeland Wines, all is connected. Cattle and sheep graze and fertilize the grasses, making way for new life to spring forth; oak woodlands sing with boisterous birdsong. Just 12 miles from the ocean and at an elevation of 1,700 feet, their Adelaide Springs Ranch estate is alive with critters, bees, and beneficial insects. Here, the wines are truly “field crafted,” meaning the fruit is carefully grown and processed naturally to achieve the fullest expression of the unique landscape. A huge part of that process includes farming the way nature intended: with natural moisture.
Try the winery’s 2012 Cab, which reflects the year’s dryness (60 percent of average rainfall) and warmth (107% of average heat) with “voluptuous and sexy” character, according to Robert Parker. The winery boasts two acres of dry farmed Petite Sirah and Zinfandel to boot. “I notice there are quite a few dry land fields that are doing better in the drought because they are not receiving surplus amounts of irrigation water, which is not as fresh as the rainwater and can cause salt buildup in the soil,”said Laird Forshay of Rangeland. “It’s a little non intuitive, but these dry farmed grapes can turn out better in some cases than irrigated vines.”