For every gallon of wine, wineries can use as much as 13 gallons of water to produce it: seven for irrigation and another six in the winery, according to figures released by University of California (Davis). Researchers there want to reduce that amount to one gallon of water per gallon of wine—and soon.
Why the rush? Most winemakers around the world report the same story: Hot summers and severe droughts are taxing water supplies.
Dry farming is almost “universally do-able” and delivers better quality with little decrease in yield.
In the vineyards, winegrowers like Chris Howell at Cain Winery in Napa Valley are using new rootstocks and examining those used before modern irrigation. The focus is on rootstocks that will grow deeper in search of moisture and have increased water storage capacity.
David Block, department chair of viticulture and enology at UC Davis, is also focusing on better irrigation.
“The next wave will be to deliver water more precisely only to the plants that need it,” he says. That’s being done with water and sap-flow sensors for selected plants as well as aerial imaging of vineyard soils and plant growth.
Once the only option in semi-arid areas—and still the norm in much of Europe—there is a worldwide trend to return to dry farming.
In Chile’s Colchagua Valley, Aurelio Montes says modified dry-farming techniques employed in Montes vineyards require “about 65 percent less water than we normally have used.”
In Napa Valley, Frog’s Leap Winery’s John Williams has long been a guru of dry farming, using selected rootstocks and tilling. “There are no tricks here,” he says, adding that dry farming is almost “universally do-able,” and delivers better quality with little decrease in yield.
Similar advances at wineries focus less water usage and increased recycling. Australia’s Pikes winery in Clare Valley has achieved 100 percent water recycling in a program started in 2001; all winery water is reused as irrigation. In South Africa, coastal producers use the Atlantic’s icy waters as a winery coolant and even as an aging cellar.
Rather than relying on rivers, lakes and aquifers for water, some wineries are going back to sourcing “sky water.” In Santa Cruz, California, Silver Mountain Winery collects rainfall on its 6,000 square feet of steel roofing, which amounts to 30,000 gallons. Solar-powered pumps direct water to where it’s needed.
“No water leaves this property,” says Silver Mountain’s Jerold O’Brien.