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Sonoma and Napa County Dry Farmed Wines


Sonoma and Napa County Dry Farmed Wines

By Vesta Copestakes

Here’s a touchy subject! I keep asking experts on wine to recommend dry-farmed wines. Why? After years of drought people keep telling grape farmers that they need to dry-farm their grapes. If it were so simple there would be no reason to water any vines. But it’s not a matter of withholding water. Not every property, soil type, climate zone, etc. is suitable for dry farming. The methods to do this successfully are actually quite complex! You can’t just say “dry farm” to a farmer without getting a smile that says “you don’t know what you’re talking about.” 

And that’s true - only farmers know, which is why I encouraged Don Wallace of Dry Creek Vineyards to write about vines and wines for the Gazette. Please see his series “Water, Wine & Dirt” in the pages of the monthly Gazette. I am grateful for his expertise as a farmer practicing sustainable vineyard management. Preserving our agricultural heritage is essential to the vitality of Sonoma County. 

Then I did some research into dry farmed wines because we have numerous water-watch organizations who are encouraging us to drink these wines. They are more expensive than irrigated vineyard wines because yields are lower. But oh the flavor! If you can afford $40 or more per bottle of wine, find some of these wines and taste the difference.

As Chris O’Neil told me when I asked him if Russian River Vineyards has dry-farmed wines - he exclaimed - “Yes, we do! When I bought this winery in 2008 it was an established organic and sustainably farmed vineyard and hadn’t been irrigated in decades. My winemakers, Giovanni Balistreri and Anthony Austin, told me to keep it that way. So I did!”

Don Wallace handed me a bottle of his Beeson Ranch Zinfandel and said “Here, try this!” I was at an event at Wine Guerilla’s tasting room in downtown Forestville, going down the line of wines to taste when I halted at the Carerra Ranch Old Vine Zinfandel. Wow! What’s this? It’s so different! 

I haven’t tasted all these wines, and these are just a sampling of ones I learned about. My personal wine guru is our columnist John Haggard who writes a column called Wine Banter for us and owns Sophies Cellars tasting room out in Duncans Mills. These small, multi-winery tasting rooms are often the perfect place to find dry-farmed wines - or wines with grapes from dry-farmed vineyards. Small farms with small yields mean these farmers don’t sell their wines on grocery store shelves, or have tasting rooms at their farm. 

Please read ast year’s article written by Aleta Parseghian on One-Stop Wine Shops..places where the small farmer and wine producers sell their wines.  

“We don’t dry farm in order to save water. If we thought we could have more productive or healthier vines, we’d water. Yes, we’re concerned with the environment, but we make more flavorful grapes and more flavorful wine by farming organically and dry farming.” ~ Frank Leeds, head of vineyard operations for Frog’s Leap Winery in Rutherford, a leading dry farm and organic wine producer in Napa Valley

I know this is all about Sonoma County - but some of these wines are from our neighbors in Napa County. Why? Because they have the conditions and tradition for dry-farming grapes. As more vineyards find they can dry farm using these practises, there will be more in Sonoma County as well. One of the best local resources for learning about dry farming is the CAFF -  Community Alliance with Family Farmers If you want to learn about the farming side of the wine you drink, this is an excellent resource for educating yourself.

Battaglini Estate Winery
Battaglini 2001 Zinfandel Estate
Produced from 100% estate grown and dry-farmed Zinfandel, this wine exhibits bright fruit as well as spice. Battaglini Estate Winery produces a variety of dry-farmed Zinfandels from their estate in Santa Rosa including a Proprietor’s Reserve and Proprietor’s Reserve Select.

Bucklin Old Hill Ranch
Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Zinfandel
This wine is a field blend produced from dry-farmed grapes dating back to the 1880’s grown in Sonoma Valley. Primarily estate Zinfandel, the wine also includes dry-farmed Grenache, Alicante Bouchet, Petite Syrah, Mouvedre, Syrah, Tempranillo, and others.

Dominus Estate
Dominus Estate, Dominus Napa Valley
Dominus is produced from estate grown and dry-farmed Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc grown in Napa Valley.

Dry Creek Vineyards
2012 Beeson Ranch Zinfandel
Produced from historic, pre-Prohibition era vines, the initial aromatics of the wine are subtle with underlying dried floral and white pepper elements. After several minutes of airing, more dramatic aromas of cardamom, graphite and blackberry characters come through. The palate is supple and rich with silky tannins that mingle with dark cherry, blackberry and blueberry fruits. The finish is long and pure with a mouthwatering finish.

Emeritus Vineyards
2011 Hallberg Ranch Pinot Noir
This wine is produced from 100% dry-farmed and estate grown Pinot Noir grown on their 107-acre Hallberg Ranch vineyard in Sebastopol.

Fredericks Vineyard
2013 “Fredericks Vineyard” Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley
This certified organic vineyard, owned by Dick Fredericks, was planted in 1937.  All vines are head trained, and dry farmed. The vineyard is organically farmed in cooperation with Turley Wine Cellars.

Frog’s Leap Winery
Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc
Produced from 100% dry-farmed Sauvignon Blanc grapes grown in Rutherford, this wine is dry with a low alcohol level. It is fermented and aged in stainless-steel. All of Frog’s Leap’s wines, except for the Chardonnay, are produced from dry-farmed grapes.

Olcese Vineyards
Rainborne Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
Produced from dry-farmed Pinot Noir, 88% of which was sourced from Olcese Vineyards and 12% from Two Dog Vineyard both in Sonoma. Two Dog Vineyard was only dry-farmed in 2008 and 2009. This wine is unfined and unfiltered with minimal additives and aged 13 months in French Oak Barrels. Rainborne produces wine made from exclusively dry-farmed grapes including a 2007 Bennett Valley Pinot Noir.

Russian River Vineyards
2012 Estate Grown Merlot
The Estate Merlot was the original vineyard planted on our property in 1964. The age of the vines, coupled with dry farming and organic growing practices, create a wine of indelible character.

Russian River Vineyards
2012 Estate Grown Pinot Noir
The 2012 vintage marks the fourth release of our Russian River Valley Reserve Pinot Noir. This wine is bright ruby in color, intense and full-bodied. Firm tannin holds everything together, and rich fruit flavors go on and on through the finish.

Smith-Madrone Vineyards
2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
Brothers Stuart and Charles Smith dry farm the grapes for their cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and riesling wines. Vines grow on steep hillsides in the northern end of Napa Valley, yielding concentration and finesse. Drip irrigation was used to establish the vineyard but today it is dry-farmed.

Stony Hill Vineyards
2012 Stony Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 
Known for their elegant and balanced whites, the team at Stony Hill also make a beautiful cabernet sauvignon. All wines are made from dry farmed grapes.

Wine Guerrilla
2012 Carreras Ranch Old Vine, Dry Creek Valley
The vineyard was planted in 1916 with an Italian field blend of  Zinfandel, Alicante Bouchet, Petite Sirah, Napa Gamay and Chasselas Dore’. The blend creates a distinct richness Juicy acidity with flavors of blueberry, blackberry and boysenberry with notes of raspberry and spice in the long finish. This is what single-vineyard wines are all about.